Composites Startup Introduces Continuous Fiber Manufacturing Technology for 3D Printing High Performance Parts

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In 2016, the award-winning Atropos 3D printing research project on 3D printing thermosetting continuous fiber composite materials was born out of a collaboration between KUKA, Owens Corning, and +Lab, which is run by Professor Marinella Levi of of the Politecnico di Milano. The unique, patented technology wields photocurable continuous fiber composites through a six-axis robotic arm.

This past winter, Professor Levi, Michele Tonizzo, and Gabriele Natale created their own startup, called moi composites, which they believe will be, as Professor Levi tells, “a game changing solution for tailor-made parts for the composite market.”

The website reads, “At moi we design, engineer and manufacture small series and tailor made objects.

“At moi we forge thermosetting composite materials into high performance parts.”

The startup naturally evolved from the Atropos project as a spin-off company from the university. Moi uses a disruptive, proprietary technology called Continuous Fiber Manufacturing (CFM) that can 3D print high performance thermosetting composite parts that combine digital fabrication with robotic intelligence.

CFM does not use expensive molds, which lowers constricting formal limits, and uses smart algorithms to digitalize composite parts. The technology can manufacture complex, high performance shapes that would otherwise be nearly impossible to create, and can create small series and tailor-made objects without needing any extra equipment, which saves on both energy and cost. CFM also optimizes the direction and position of fibers along the final 3D printed object’s principal stress axis in relation to the predicted stresses they need to resist, which makes for an excellent structural solution that reduces waste and up to 70% of unnecessary weight.

The process, which centers on thermosetting matrices with curing times shorter than one second, is customizable and scalable. Continuous fibers can be rapidly deposited, which creates products with higher working temperatures. Combining these characteristics with the normal features of 3D printers makes the technology unique, and allows the composites field to create new solutions that weren’t possible before.

The startup is collaborating with many top companies, including Autodesk, KUKA, and Owens Corning, and has integrated Autodesk’s Netfabb Ultimate software into its workflow. Moi has also shared the results of some of the latest case studies that have come from partnering with Autodesk.

The first of these is a BMX bike frame, which was designed by moi using a voxel-based optimization algorithm, and 3D printed in three parts with continuous glass fiber composite material. The algorithm was able to generate the desired solution, and the software understands how stresses, compression forces, and tension forces will be theoretically distributed, so the design was created to be the most structurally efficient.

Ultimately, using CFM technology to create the frame allowed for a weight reduction of 40% from the original steel frame. By not depositing the fibers in the back part of the frame in a parallel to plane manner, the structural solution was able to, as moi put it, “exploit the anisotropy of material.” The toolpath was also able to better distribute the load, as algorithms in the process made it possible to lower the fiber interruptions. The bike and its 3D printed frame were first presented at formnext 2017, and also traveled to Texas for the recent RAPID + TCT.

It is possible to obtain different elastic behaviors by modifying the position and orientation of fibers to best suit the athlete’s demands.

The Superior, a lower limb running prosthesis, was created by moi during thesis work at +Lab.

The fiber optimization algorithms used to make this prosthesis were able to achieve the desired elastic behavior, and the final design proved its resistance with a maximum load of 150 kg.

This case study also illustrated that it’s possible to combine traditional manufacturing with moi’s digital technology: a glass fiber optimized 3D printed core made it unnecessary to use an expensive mold.

Moi’s CFM process was also applied in a case study regarding a skateboard, which is a perfect example of the kind of on-demand, personalized, high performance parts that moi can create with its innovative technology.

CFM made it possible for the skateboard to be made rigid where the trucks are located, but flexible in its central part. In addition, moi predicted cavities for the skateboard’s screws, and designed a special reinforcement for the higher stresses.

The subjects of these last two case studies – the prosthesis and the skateboard – were also 3D printed overnight by an autonomous robot, which is equipped with sensors to provide real-time feedback and uses Autodesk’s slicing software platform.

Now, moi has proven the scalability of its autonomous robotic process by adding a second, larger robotic system, thanks to a collaboration with COMAU. The new system can 3D print objects up to 0.8 m x 1 x 1.2 m, and it also has improved printing precision and quality, which has “overcome the current size limitations of the machines.” This makes it possible to post-process parts with more traditional methods, like lamination, once all of the pieces have been mounted together.

The startup’s technology has been tested with Owens Corning’s photocurable resins and glass fibers, and all of its composites exhibit mechanical behaviors consistent with predictions. For now, moi is also studying how to apply carbon fibers during the process, as well as improving its overall quality with new equipment and toolheads and additional sensors.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts in the comments below. 

[Images provided by moi]


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