In the last ten years, massive additive manufacturing innovations have firmly planted digital manufacturing into the industry’s zeitgeist. However, today two of the most pressing challenges for the technology remain: How do you print something with plastic that goes beyond a prototype? How do you reliably print with high temperature or high-strength plastics?
Enter 3DXTech®, a well-known 3D printing filament supplier that has created a wide array of high-performance materials, including those made with carbon fiber and carbon nanotubes. As they brought those materials to market, 3DXTech found most existing FFF 3D printers lacking the capability to properly process them. In 2016, they decided to create their own answer to the “Which printer do you recommend” question – the Gearbox™ HT2. Gearbox machines are engineered from the ground up to ensure high-performance plastics (read: plastics that are way higher temperature or stronger than what you can print at home) will offer superior performance with highly repeatable quality.
3DXTech founders Matt Howlett and Gary Foote have spent over 65 years in the materials industry working on high-performance thermoplastics for injection molding, extrusion, and other processes, so they know a thing or two about the industry’s current state and where it’s headed. As Howlett puts it, “Our industrial customers want to be able to make functional parts…beyond just short-run production/prototyping and move into longer production runs. As we built out our portfolio, we saw a need in the market to move into more functional, industrial-grade materials. We quickly understood that there were very few open-source printers capable of processing these high-performance materials. That’s where the Gearbox3D product was born.”
Many of 3DXTech’s customers have already committed to manufacturing products using filament-based 3D printing. “We have many materials that are used in aerospace applications – including several that are used on launch vehicles and orbital platforms,” added Howlett.
While not all thermoplastic production processes will be replaced by additive manufacturing, the need for greater practical usage and functionality in the additive manufacturing process will bring further inroads as the industry continues to gain confidence in the materials and printers available to aid their development, prototyping, small-run production and beyond into mass production. Besides, you’ve probably noticed the avalanche of worldwide microbrands who sell niche products to smaller audiences. As these companies focus on their niche, production becomes a tricky balancing act of scaling manufacturing. These are precisely the kind of gaps 3DXTech and Gearbox3D can address.
“Fusion 360 is very good at managing files. Having everything in the cloud allowed us to quickly prototype the parts and run through quick mock-ups when we started the project.”
– Matt Howlett, 3DXTech co-founder
Hardened components and precision engineering make Gearbox3D printers carbon fiber ready, with high-temperature nozzles that can reach 475C with a heated chamber rated as high as 230C internally. “When you want to print a high-temperature material that processes at 420C, you have to be able to create an environment conducive to properly processing that material,” says Howlett. This is especially true for high-performance semi-crystalline materials, where controlling crystallization during the process is critical to optimize material properties.” How do you address this situation? You build a 3D printer that can handle the materials by design, which is exactly what they have done with the Gearbox HT2.
As you can imagine, making aContinue reading