Reinventing traditional composite production with additive manufacturing.
Having explored a number of 3D printing technologies, Compositex approached Stratasys local partner, Technimold, to purchase a Fortus 450mc™, an industrial-grade FDM® 3D printer designed to produce complex parts using high-performance materials. The printer’s capabilities made an immediate impression, particularly in the area of composite tooling. The company now 3D prints a range of composite tools, such as lay-ups, inserts and mandrels, all key components of traditional prepreg production. Manufacturing these tools in-house lets Compositex eliminate costly outsourcing, while significantly reducing production lead times. More importantly, since using FDM technology for composite tool production, Compositex has achieved higher-quality results.
“We are currently producing water-soluble mandrels 3D printed in ST-130™ material and the results are outstanding,” explained Fanton. “For example, in order to manufacture a drone duct for one of our established customers, we were able to use just one 3D printed watersoluble mandrel to complete production. To put this into context, with conventional composite tooling the creation of four female molds would have been required, as well as additional milling and finishing operations. Not only did we halve the production time and save around 20% in costs, but we were also able to fully satisfy the customer’s expectations in terms of the finishing of the internal side of the duct.”
Compositex is also using the Fortus 450mc to 3D print customized parts. These include aesthetic components and structural parts that would simply be too complex or cost-prohibitive to produce using conventional methods, such as the exterior body of remote-controlled aircraft and drones, automotive air ducts, and motorcycle handgrips. Use of the Fortus 450mc and its high-performance materials, such as ULTEM™ 9085 resin and FDM Nylon 12CF™, has been crucial for the company in expanding its services to meet the needs of a more diversified customer base.
“Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing ensures we can quickly and cost-effectively produce certain final parts, which means we can now respond to customer requests that we could not fulfill before,” said Fanton. “We were asked to produce an air conditioning duct for a historic supercar which is no longer in production. We reverse-engineered the original duct and then 3D printed the part using carbon fiber-reinforced FDM Nylon 12CF for the structural components and ASA material for non-structural elements. The result was exceptional, far beyond our — and our customer’s — initial expectations. In fact, producing this obsolete part with traditional manufacturing would have been impossible.”