Arkema Strengthens Partnership with Continuous Composites to Advance Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

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With a strong belief in the growing market opportunity for Continuous Fiber 3D Printing technology (CF3D), Arkema, a French specialty chemicals company, has invested to strengthen its partnership with US-based Continuous Composites.

In September 2019, the two companies had signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) to advance development of photocurable resins from Satromer, an Arkema subsidiary, and its N3xtDimension solutions for use in the CF3D process. Their joint innovation has quickly achieved key milestones, and enabled the production of large-scale, customized composite parts with high-performance mechanical properties. These parts can be used in applications across industries, primarily in aerospace, automotive and energy, and development projects are already underway in collaboration with Siemens, Lockheed Martin, and the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

The robotic arm on the left pre-impregnates reinforcement fiber with rapid-cure thermoset plastic hardened as it is deposited on the print platform mounted onto the robotic arm on the right. Image courtesy of Continuous Composites.

Arkema had also entered into a similar partnership with Switzerland-based 9T Labs for the former’s high-performance PEKK Kepstan polymer material for thermoplastic composite 3D printing. Earlier in June this year, Arkema sold its functional polyolefin business to SK Chemicals, a Korean chemicals company, committing to its focus on becoming a pure-play specialty materials player by 2024.

 “We are delighted to strengthen our strategic partnership with Continuous Composites, which has an agile, reliable team with a very strong entrepreneurial spirit. Our investment is a testament to our belief in the market opportunity of CF3D. This collaboration will accelerate the development of innovative materials and disruptive manufacturing technology,” says Sumeet Jain, Senior Director of 3D Printing Worldwide at Arkema.

In May this year, Jain had also shared detailed insights into how carbon fiber-reinforced polymer matrices have tremendous potential in replacing metals, significantly reducing the weight of structures, and when combined with 3D printing, makes composite manufacturing highly customizable, affordable, and efficient for end-use applications.

“CF3D technology, combined with custom N3xtDimension® photocurable resins from Sartomer, a business line of Arkema, creates a mold-less and out-of-autoclave composite manufacturing process with the ability to steer fibers in all dimensions for topology-optimized structures using an anisotropic fiber. Driving measurable cost reductions and removing traditional manufacturing barriers, CF3D is a more efficient and tailorable solution for end-use applications. Combining continuous fiber with high-performance thermoset resins enables CF3D® to print low-cost, complex composite parts in a net-shape additive manufacturing process.”

Continuous Composites’ patented CF3D technology has the potential to revolutionize traditional composites manufacturing. The CF3D process which uses thermoset resins with print speeds up to three meters per second, does not require pre-impregnation (as it impregnates fibre with ultraviolet-curable resins during the process), produces parts that are self-supported thus eliminating the need for moulds, and  also eliminates the need for autoclaves since it is cured by light not heat. This eliminates a significant portion of the limitations and expense in composite manufacturing while enabling the efficient production of highly complex, lightweight composite parts.

This solution greatly reduces the cost of manufacturing with composites, and enables widespread adoption in composite manufacturing that was previously considered prohibitively expensive. Commercialization of such additive solutions would go a long way in growing the market for composite additive manufacturing, beyond the $9 billion it is expected to reach by 2028.

“Our team diligently laid the foundation of our business and strategic relationships so when we enter the market, we have all the building blocks in place,” says Tyler Alvarado CEO and Co-Founder of Continuous Composites. “Arkema’s JDA and strategic investment demonstrates our commitment to bringing an exponential growth curve to various industries. We are enabling more innovation through our alliance with Arkema’s 60 years of material science expertise and our dedicated R&D capabilities.”

In June this year, Royal DSM acquired parts of Clariant’s 3D printing business, strengthening its portfolio in high-grade, application-focused filaments, compounds and selected additive products. May last year, Henkel expanded applications for its materials portfolio by acquiring Molecule Corp, an industrial 3D printing and inkjet resins technology company. In March of 2018, Mitsubishi Chemicals acquired Dutch Filaments B.V., among Europe’s largest FFF filament manufacturers, to expand its material solutions for 3D printing applications. Following BASF’s acquisitions of Sculpteo and Innofil3D, and investments in Essentium and Materialise, 3DPrint.com had studied in detail the advances made by polymer or specialty materials companies in November last year, noting how BASF and DSM were leading the way in acquisitions or investments in the AM materials industry.

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