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Caracol Introduces Large-Scale Composite 3D Printing Mounted on Robotic Arms

ST Medical Devices

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The small segment for large-scale 3D printers is growing. Previously populated by the likes of Cincinnati, Inc, Thermwood, and Ingersoll, this space is dedicated massive extrusion systems that 3D print thermoplastics as impressive scales and speeds, typically combining carbon fiber with their polymer of choice. Now, Italy’s Caracol is joining their mighty ranks with its own take on large-scale composite 3D printing.

The firm’s chief marketing and strategy officer, Violetta Nespolo, told Composites World that Caracol began by attempting to expand the scale of existing 3D printers, ultimately landing on robotic arms, which offered the greatest flexibility. This resulted in the development of a patented system mounts onto a Kuka robot, creating what the firm calls the Scalprum 13800 3D printer.

A large-scale jig made for manufacturing belly fairings for an aircraft. Image courtesy of Caracol.

The current machine can 3D print parts as large as four meters in width, but the use of a rail or trolley system could extend this reach to 10-meters-wide. Such a system would be similar to the setup Branch Technology uses, which features a Kuka robot installed on a rail to 3D print walls and other architectural elements.

Among the polymers with which it can Caracol’s 3D printer can print are nylon, polyphenylene sulfide, and polypropylene, all of which can be reinforced with up to 40 percent carbon or glass fiber. Like the aforementioned giants, like Cincinnati Inc, the machine relies on injection molding pellets, which opens up the process to a broader range of materials.

Caracol is currently targeting a variety of industries, including aerospace and automotive, particularly tooling. The firm was able to 3D print a tool for airplane belly fairings panels in a single piece. Measuring 84.8 cm wide x 125 cm long x 37.5 cm high, the jig was produced carbon fiber-nylon and CNC machined down to the required 0.1 mm tolerances with a surface roughness of 1.6 microns.

The company touts many of the benefits known in 3D printing, such as reduced turnaround time and cost, as well as the ability to combine multiple parts into a single unit. For the aircraft tooling, the number of components was reduced from 30 to one; production time was reduced from six weeks to five days; and costs were cut by 35 percent.

A spoiler for a luxury car 3D printed and laminated with carbon fiber. Image courtesy of Caracol.

Similarly, a rear wing for a luxury car 3D printed in carbon fiber-nylon 12 was able to reduce costs by 50 percent and production time from six weeks to five days. The unit featured a 3D printed internal liner that was then laminated with carbon fiber on the top surface to improve performance. Overall, the weight was cut by 33 percent.

Caracol aims to expand the print volumes it can produce and integrate CNC milling for part finishing. The firm also wants to ramp up the temperature of its machine to 3D print with high-performance materials like PEEK and PAEK. Continuous fiber reinforcement is an additional goal of the firm. These last two features would give the company a leg up on the large-scale competition, as the other companies do not yet print with continuous reinforcement or high temperature materials, as far as I am aware. The exception would be CEAD, which can 3D print with continuous reinforcement.

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