Additive Manufacturing Strategies

Ricoh to Supply Impossible Objects Composite 3D Printing to European Market

ST Medical Devices

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A new partnership between Impossible Objects and Ricoh 3D will make new composite-enhanced parts available to European Ricoh 3D customers. The parts, created via Impossible Objects’ much-touted CBAM process, will be strong, light, and have high chemical resistance.

In May 2019, Impossible Objects commercialized its composite based additive manufacturing (CBAM) process , after years of research. Its CBAM2 printer deposits a binder onto sheets of reinforcement material, then floods it with thermoplastic powder. The powder sticks to the binder, then the printer vacuums off the extra powder, leaving a plastic matrix on a sheet of reinforcement fiber. Each of these sheets is stacked, compressed and put into an oven to melt the plastic matrix together.

Currently, the CBAM process can make parts up to 10 times quicker than traditional FDM printing, on sheets up to 12 x 12 inches. It uses high-performance polymers like Nylon and PEEK, and the company claims a wide range of reinforcement materials, from “standard” composite fillers like carbon fiber and fiberglass to more unconventional reinforcements like silk and cotton. According to Impossible Objects, CBAM is capable of printing with a higher variety of additives than other 3D printing processes because the powder isn’t melted when it’s initially deposited.

A bell crank created with Impossible Objects’ CBAM process (Image via Impossible Objects).

“Our CBAM process represents a significant leap forward in 3D printing, with faster speeds, better material properties and wider material selection,” said Robert Swartz, founder of Impossible Objects. “Fortune 100 companies, government agencies, and more have already put it to work to create everything from car and aircraft parts to athletic gear. By collaborating with the team at Ricoh 3D who recognizes the transformative potential of additive manufacturing, together we will bring these competitive advantages to more organizations across Europe.”

This is their first time working with Ricoh 3D, whose AM service bureau lets customers send in part designs for workshopping and printing. Composites like carbon fiber-PEEK and carbon fiber-PA12 are now available as print objects through Ricoh 3D’s AM service bureau, making it the first such provider of CBAM 3D printing services. 

“Composites are set to be an area of huge growth in additive manufacturing in the coming years. These new materials will change the game across a number of industries,” said Mark Dickin, Additive Manufacturing & Molding Engineering Manager at Ricoh 3D. “Impossible Objects’ CBAM process is nothing short of a revolution in the way composites are manufactured, so we are proud to be working with the company to be at the forefront of the European movement.”

Carbon fiber 3D printing is still a relatively small niche, with just a handful of companies selling their machines. While AREVO has demonstrated the ability to 3D print parts as large as a bicycle frame with continuous carbon fiber composites and Ingersoll, Thermwood and Cincinnati can printed massive parts with chopped carbon fiber reinforcement, there is no technology quite like Impossible Objects’.

Though this is just one partnership, it could be a significant one, given Ricoh’s status as a company with a $7.87 market cap. It demonstrates both the value of CBAM in a service bureau setting, which is a microcosm of large-scale manufacturing, and a broadening of Ricoh’s interest in new materials and technologies. 

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