Additive manufacturing (AM) service and technology company PrintParts has been rapidly expanding its capacity to meet customer demand for low to mid-volume end-use part production. The expansion initiative began four years ago when the New York City-based company began adding machines to support the growing demand from customers seeking lightweight, strong, and functional components. After five years of continuous 3D printing and over 43,000 print hours on Markforged systems alone, PrintParts announced the addition of 20 new printers to increase the production capacity of carbon fiber reinforced parts.
PrintParts showcased its 20 new Markforged Onyx printers via a social media post on April 7, 2021. The professional fused filament fabrication (FFF) printers are part of Markforged’s latest lineup of accessibly-priced series starting at $3,499. Designed uniquely to print carbon black parts, both desktop versions, Onyx One and Pro, work with the brand’s flagship Onyx material, which is basically a Nylon based thermoplastic filament with chopped carbon fiber blended in. Strong and flexible, Onyx can be printed on its own or reinforced with continuous fibers to provide strength comparable to Aluminum. It is ideal for tooling and fixtures, as well as end-use production parts.
Practically hands-free, the entry-level printers come with the intuitive software Eiger, which enables users to 3D print any part on-demand at the point of need. Markforged Vice President for the Americas, Bryan Painter, believes the latest fleet of new printers will allow PrintParts to meet their customers’ “ever-growing demand” for high-performance prototypes, end-use parts, and scalable production. He said the Manhattan headquartered company provides a “fantastic service to manufacturers.”
Founded in 2016, PrintParts has established itself as an AM service provider focused on production services for a wide range of industries, including aerospace, automotive, defense, robotics, and healthcare. In 2020, PrintParts significantly grew its operations to support the New York City government as a prime contractor for COVID-19 testing supplies, ultimately delivering over 1.5 million nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs. With the addition of 20 new systems, PrintParts expects to triple its production capacity. The company’s Production Manager, Michael Ruddy, claims they can now produce over 10,000 parts per week and dramatically shorten lead times for customers.
From prototypes to end-use parts, engineers at PrintParts create high-quality components on-demand with competitive pricing at their production lab. Aside from FFF technologies, they also offer selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography, and fused deposition modeling (FDM). Before its latest acquisition, PrintParts was already using Markforged’s industrial composite and desktop systems and engineering-grade materials that include carbon fiber-filled nylon and continuous carbon fiber, and Kevlar. The company also recently acquired Fuse 1 SLS systems from Formlabs and multiple EnvisionTEC Envision One industrial printers to grow its production capability.
Composite materials, like carbon fiber, have been used to make lightweight parts with high mechanical strength and performance and offer significant stiffness advantages compared to standard thermoplastics. PrintParts stated that composite parts are ideal for applications with high functional requirements. They can often replace heavier metal parts, like jigs and fixtures, enclosures, brackets, and end-of-arm tooling. Furthermore, the composites AM market is expected to surpass $9 billion in 2028, as forecasted by a SmarTech Analysis report. In its “3D Printed Composites Materials Markets” for the ten-year period starting in 2018, market researchers concluded that final parts are expected to grow into the most significant revenue opportunity, while carbon fiber will be the primary material in all traditional and advanced manufacturing applications for composites.
With so many companies realizing the potential of composite materials, PrintParts is working with very diverse customers, from startups to big companies and government agencies. The firm has collaborated with innovative research teams from the US Navy, the University of Delaware, metal supplier Avion Alloy, high-performance clothing manufacturer Gore-Tex, personal care company Edgewell, and much more. Along with Canada’s urban infrastructure developer Sidewalk Labs, PrintParts began working on a low-volume run of functional prototypes.
Sidewalk Labs Hardware Engineering Director Tom Kennedy said the carbon-filled parts they ordered were delivered fast, on time, and were ideally suited for the applications they needed. He explained that the experience changed their thinking around 3D printed materials and their “assumed limited application to prototyping.”
Kennedy concluded: “It’s easy to see how working with a partner like PrintParts could enable the use of 3D printed composites for mass production.”
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