As noted in our series on the topic, carbon fiber 3D printing is starting to take off. There has yet to be a huge shift in the space, but we are seeing numerous startups emerge with their own take on fabricating carbon fiber reinforced parts. The latest is a California-based company called Arris, which has recently announced an investment from the Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH (RBVC), the VC arm of the Bosch Group.
Arris has dubbed its composite production technology “additive molding”. And for good reason, as it is not a 3D printing process. Rather than extrude a plastic-impregnated carbon fiber onto a build plate, it snips and shapes a prepreg before applying a heat molding process.
First, a continuous dry fiber is impregnated with a thermoplastic resin and then shaped based on the part’s design and aligned based on the part’s stress vectors. The piece, representing one layer of the final component, is placed stacked onto previous layers in a heat-compression molding system. Once all the layers of material have been stacked, heat and pressure are applied to produce the final part.
The company claims that Additive Molding is fast and makes it possible to embed electronic components and multifunctional materials into the part during production. Naturally, because the parts can be made from continuous carbon fiber, they can be stronger and lighter than more dense materials, including titanium, according to Arris.
The startup had already received capital from New Enterprise Associates, Taiwania Capital, Valo Ventures, and Alumni Venture Group. Bosch adds the expertise of a large manufacturer with a 2019 revenue of €77.7 billion to Arris’s group of investors. While Bosch will get early access to Arris technology, the startup will be able to rely on the European giant for strategy in determining the best applications for its Additive Molding technology.
Ethan Escowitz, CEO of Arris, said, “We recently opened Arris Taiwan to support our consumer electronics growth. Now we’re looking forward to leveraging Bosch’s extensive manufacturing and engineering expertise in automotive, industrial, and consumer goods as we expand in Europe and around the world.”
“Arris is the first company with the capability to mass-produce complex high-performance composites,” says Ingo Ramesohl, Managing Director of RBVC. “This is an important development for manufacturing. Arris’ scalable manufacturing and high-performance materials enable new design possibilities for future products across industries.”
One application that the company recently announced it would apply its technology to is the production of drone parts. Additive Molding will be used to produce critical structural parts for Skydio drones, beginning with the airframe for the Skydio X2. Because the parts can see significant weight reduction, due to both the use of carbon fiber and topology optimization, they make it possible for UAVs such as those from Skydio to fly longer and farther as less energy from the battery is required to maintain the craft in the air.
For the Skydio X2, Additive Molding allows for part consolidation that takes a 17-piece assembly made up of two carbon composite plates, one glass fiber composite plate, four aluminum brackets and 10 fasteners and turns it into one additively molded component. The additively molded part weighs 25 percent less than the previous assembly, while featuring unique design features such as drag reduction at the forward end of the craft.
It also combines carbon fiber and glass fiber within a single component, both of which are orientated in the optimum manner for part performance. Glass fiber was used in areas where GPS would be located in order to allow for unobstructed radio frequency communication. Carbon fiber was placed in areas that required strength and stiffness to hold optical equipment.
As our Executive Editor Joris Peels has recently discussed, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and 3D printing are a match made in heaven, or hell, depending on if you’re on the receiving end of a military aircraft. In the case of Skydio, the Skydio X2 will be a part of the U.S. Department of Defense as part of DIU’s Blue sUAS program, which is focused on portable reconnaissance vehicles. The drone maker is unique in that its self-piloting aircraft uses artificial intelligence to follow and dodge obstacles.
Arris is just one of many startups working on new carbon fiber manufacturing technologies. The competition is made up of such companies as Markforged, Desktop Metal, Anisoprint, Impossible Objects, Fortify, Continuous Composites, CEAD, Arevo, and 9T Labs. All of these firms differ in terms of how their technology works, with some likely serving some applications better than others. CEAD and Arevo, for instance, seem to be more focused on large-scale objects, while Fortify is currently targeting the production of molds.
So far, it seems as though Arris is marketing itself toward mass production of smaller parts, but we’ll learn more as the company progresses. With a partner like Bosch on board, we may be just around the corner from an additive composites boom.
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