Today at RAPID + TCT, Illinois-based Impossible Objects is introducing the Model One, its new pilot machine and the latest 3D printer claiming to transform manufacturing as we know it — and directly competing with injection molding for scale production. The company has been revving up for some time with an eye toward end-use production using high-strength materials, and the Model One represents the culmination of their efforts as the company deploys the first units to Jabil and select Fortune 500 customers.
The key to the Model One is Impossible Objects’ so-called revolutionary CBAM (composite-based additive manufacturing) method, which allows for high-speed, low-cost 3D printing. The company has described their CBAM technology as the first truly new 3D printing technology to emerge in the last two decades, and is turning that touted tech to additive manufacturing at scale. There is certainly a call for production-level AM, and Impossible Objects is by no means the only company on that 3D printed grail quest; where they stand apart might just be the use of high-strength composites in manufacture. Impossible Objects is taking aim at high-speed production capabilities from the likes of Carbon and HP in its announcement and endeavor.
“The development of an automated, low-cost composite additive manufacturing system could revolutionize the U.S. composite tool and composite end user parts industries. Impossible Objects’ CBAM technology has the potential to revolutionize this market,” says Lonnie Love, PhD, Group Leader of Automation, Robotics and Manufacturing at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
With a vote of confidence from ORNL, which itself has a strong understanding of additive manufacturing and composite materials, Impossible Objects finds itself in a good position for bold claims. Also speaking highly of Impossible Objects’ potential is Jabil, which has been working with CBAM technology and sees great potential. Jabil, for its part, has been working on the cutting edge of additive manufacturing technologies and is the third largest contract manufacturer in the world.
“Based on its combination of speed, strength and material sets, we believe Impossible Objects’ CBAM could become an enabling technology for high-volume manufacturing. We’ve identified applications where Impossible Objects could deliver a competitive advantage and significant cost savings over conventional manufacturing processes. We are excited to take part in Impossible Objects’ pilot program and look forward to working with the Impossible Objects’ team,” said Greg Ojeda, senior director of AM Ecosystem Development and Strategy at Jabil.
Among the claims for the Model One are its abilities to, says the company:
- Create Stronger Parts: Through Impossible Object’s unique process, Model One is able to create parts that can be up to 10x stronger than current 3D printers.
- Use a Range of High-Quality Materials: Through a greater amount of material options, Impossible Objects enables companies to build truly functional parts, from high performance materials such as PEEK and carbon fiber. Because of the composite makeup, customers will be able to customize the part applications, whether to have heat and/or chemical resistant properties, stiffness or flexibility, or other attributes.
- Power 3D Printing at Scale: With faster build speeds than other additive manufacturing technologies and traditional composite lay-up techniques, Impossible Objects has the potential to enable companies to build vital parts at production speeds 100x faster than current methods. Further, users can make the same part for the prototype and mass production.
The Model One can 3D print functional parts using materials including carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass, PEEK, and other high-performance polymers. It is set for public availability by early 2018, though an earlier-access pilot program is available for companies that email with their interest.
“We’ve seen tremendous interest from a range of companies who want the advantages of 3D printing for their high-volume manufacturing and for materials they cannot get elsewhere. Until now, there was no way to print functional parts with the mechanical and material properties at the scale these companies need,” said Impossible Objects’ Chairman and Founder, Robert (Bob) Swartz. “The Model One is just the beginning of what CBAM can do. Our CBAM technology has the potential to transform manufacturing as we know it.”
Model One specs include:
- Build Speed: 45 cubic inches per hour or greater
- Build Volume: At least 12″ x 8″ x 4″ and up to 12″ x 16″ x 4″
- The company notes that print height is not limited by the machine; taller heights are possible.
- Layer Height: 0.0016 in (40 μm) to 0.002 in (50 μm) depending on fiber selection
- XY Print Resolution: 600 dpi / 42 μm
CBAM technology utilizes conventional thermal inkjet heads to lay down designs on sheets of composites which are in turn flooded with a polymer powder that adheres the powder to the inkjet fluid on the sheets. After extra powder is removed via vacuuming, sheets are stacked, compressed, and heated to melt the polymer powder, bonding the sheets. Uncoated fibers are removed via mechanical or chemical process, leaving behind what Impossible Objects describes as “an exceptionally durable, lightweight object that was previously impossible to make so quickly and inexpensively.”
The company’s CEO, Larry Kaplan, remarked, “We’re excited to take this next step toward providing a tangible solution for the largest manufacturing opportunities that businesses have. With our deep expertise in additive manufacturing, we’re committed to finding the fastest, most efficient ways possible to produce the most vital and complex parts from all types of materials.”
To learn more about the Model One, we turned to the company for more information. Bob Swartz, Founder and Chairman of Impossible Objects, took the time to answer A Few Questions For us to provide an inside look at the company’s latest big claims.
Competing with injection molding is a big claim; what makes the Model One the machine that will do this?
“Our CBAM technology is based on standard inkjet technology which, today, can run at speeds of 450 feet per minute for sheet sizes as large as 40 by 50 inches. CBAM can scale to take advantage of this existing technology. At this speed, CBAM could print one imch Z-height in about a minute. At even a fraction of this speed and size capability, CBAM could print parts at rates rivaling injection molding. The Model One represents just the beginning of what CBAM can do. We’re currently operating at 45 cubic inches per hour, which is already ten times faster than some other 3D technologies, and we expect the print speed to increase rapidly even in the near term.”
What is the print speed/build volume? How many materials have been successfully tested?
“We have a build speed of 45 inches cubed per hour or greater. We have successfully tested a range of types of materials, including Kevlar, fiberglass, carbon fiber, silk, cotton polyester and PLA, in polymers we have worked with nylon 6, Nylon 12, LDPE, HDPE, PEEK, PAEK, TPU elastomers, ULTEM and more.”
How long has the Model One been in development?
“We started the design of our first prototype about two years ago and the design of the Model One less than a year ago.”
What technologies is the 100x faster claim based on?
“We are comparing ourselves to machines like Carbon, HP, SLS, SLA and FDM.”
How many customers are among initial deployments of the Model One?
“We’re unfortunately not able to announce at this time.”
What is Impossible Objects’ goal for the Model One’s first year on the market?
“We want to work with early adopters of our technology and demonstrate its superiority to key decision makers. We also want to get feedback from major customers on our design, and where they see potential for the Model One.”
The Model One certainly seems to be one to watch, and we’ll look forward to following progress and updates as this speedy process works to fulfill its claims of disruption.
Impossible Objects will be appearing this week in Pittsburgh at RAPID + TCT. Attendees are invited to visit the company at booth #923; 3DPrint.com will definitely be stopping by to see the team in person. Share your thoughts on this new machine in the Impossible Objects forum at 3DPB.com.