Additive Manufacturing Strategies

$4.3M Investment Drives Carbon Fiber 3D Printing from Swiss Startup

ST Medical Devices

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The world of carbon fiber 3D printing is getting exciting, as an increasing number of companies are entering the market. The latest is a Zurich-based startup called 9T Labs​, which made its debut at Formnext 2019. Now, 9T Labs has announced that has closed a $4.3 million seed financing round to finalize the development of a carbon fiber 3D printer targeted at industrial users.

9T Labs is a spin-off of the Swiss university ETH Zurich, where its founders worked in the Laboratory of Composite Materials and Adaptive Structures developing a printhead mounted onto a robotic arm for depositing lightweight aerospace structures. Because that system still requires significant R&D, the team have turned to desktop 3D printing. Their first system, dubbed the Red Series, is a 3D printer with a tentative build area of 350 mm x 300 mm.

A rendering of the Red Series. Image courtesy of 9T Labs.

The Red Series features two printheads, one for polymers and one for fiber reinforcement. Similar to Anisoprint’s technology, 9T Labs is able to orient the carbon fiber in ways that optimize the strength of the part based on the load it will experience.

Once the print is complete, it is placed into a post-processing unit that applies pressure and heat, resulting in a component over 50 percent fiber volume content and less than 1 percent voids. If so, this would place 9T’s technology alongside Desktop Metal’s in terms of fiber volume and porosity.

A 3D-printed part with carbon fiber reinforcement. Image courtesy of 9T Labs.

So far, 9T’s technology can 3D print with such high-performance polymers as PEKK and PEI, as well as nylon. The technology will be open to third-party materials, in order to ensure that customers are able to use the plastics they already rely on, which will be tested on 9T’s systems to ensure usability. The software for preparing prints includes finite element analysis from a well-known, but yet-unnamed developer. This will allow users to optimize parts based on load case simulations.

A rendering of 9T Labs’ Fibrify software. Image courtesy of 9T Labs.

The startup is first targeting industrial users, where structural composites can have high utility, but the standards are not as strict as in aerospace. 9T is also looking at aircraft interiors and the luxury consumer market. With its $4.3 million from its existing investors from Wingman Ventures and new funders from ​Investiere and the ​Technology Fund, the company will finish developing its Red Series and scale-up applications for mass manufacturing in the industrial sector.

Joining 9T’s board of directors are Andreas Wuellner and Bertrand Humel van der Lee. Wuellner previously led the composites business of an established fiber composite supplier, SGL Carbon. Humel van der Lee most recently served as the chief customer operations officer and managing director at EOS.

As we have discussed in our series on carbon fiber 3D printing, the ability to 3D print with carbon fiber doesn’t just open up the ability to create unique geometries on-demand. It also automates the process of carbon fiber layup, which is otherwise labor-intensive and expensive. We are already seeing metal 3D printing seep into the larger world of manufacturing, slowly introducing completely new design concepts and performance to the industry. As carbon fiber 3D printing begins to grow, we will surely see the same trend impact the large composites industry.

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