This SBIR Phase I project intends to develop an automated and cost-effective method of producing complex carbon fiber parts with a 3D printing process that manages to achieve the full performance of traditional carbon fiber parts while allowing greater use of carbon fiber in applications where machined aluminum was previously the only option. This project involves first testing basic mechanical properties and adjusting processing parameters, and then looking towards using the 5-axis capabilities of the machine to place carbon fibers in multiple directions, allowing for complex parts that need strength in all directions. This novel manufacturing method for carbon fiber reinforced high temperature thermoplastic parts will greatly expand the markets that can benefit from increased use of carbon fiber materials, including aerospace, high-performance automotive, and custom biomedical parts. By lowering barriers to high performance part development, this technology will also allow smaller companies to fabricate high performance products and create a variety of technical and non-technical jobs within small businesses.
This project seeks to prove the feasibility of producing high performance carbon fiber parts with a 3D printing process. A 5-axis machine and nozzle has been designed for use with continuous carbon fiber reinforced high temperature thermoplastics that will be able to produce complex parts that are able to take complex, multi-axial loads. The primary focus of this project is to generate laminates with comparable properties to traditional continuous carbon fiber manufacturing processes, which would indicate the viability of using this process for high performance parts in aerospace applications, which no composite 3D printing has yet to achieve. After demonstrating the capability of forming high performance laminates, this project will begin focusing on the generating representative parts with reinforcing layers printing in the z-axis. Prior to printing multi-axial parts, this project will focus on achieving novel layered composite structures including variable stiffness laminates and integrated honeycomb cores. The combination of high mechanical properties at a laminate level, tailorability of properties through precise fiber orientation, and the ability to effectively transfer loads to fibers in any direction, will signify a new frontier in the technology and markets for carbon fiber reinforced polymers.