Stratasys developed a way for more of their clients to access high-end carbon fiber 3D printing.
The company has long offered carbon fiber 3D printing on their Fortus series. The capability, available only on their higher-end models, employs a unique filament material made from 35% (by weight) chopped carbon fiber, and the rest being strong nylon PA-12 material. This is a very strong material suitable for many production uses.
Now they’re shipping a new machine, the Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition, first launched at this year’s RAPID + TCT.
This machine is able to 3D print the carbon fiber material in the same manner as the higher-end machines: with 0.254mm layers and with dissolvable support structures enabling easy printing of any conceivable geometry.
But the big difference is the price of the machine. Stratasys says the 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition will be priced at around USD$70,000, and the materials are likely the same you’d use as on the higher-end machines.
This opens up the possibility for machine use by another set of clients that have lesser financial resources to apply to equipment.
There’s some interesting aspects of this machine.
First, it is essentially a regular 380mc unit that’s been souped up to handle carbon fiber materials. The changes are most likely in the extruder and hot end, where the very hardness of carbon fiber can wreak havoc on components expecting far softer thermoplastics like ABS, PC, ULTEM and ASA. They’ve likely changed out all affected components to steel or perhaps even a harder material like titanium.
Second, the strength of the prints emerging from this machine is so significant that many prints can simply be used as production parts. This is not necessarily a machine for prototyping, although that can be done. Instead you have the added capability of being able to do short run production series on the 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition. This ability could save considerable cost to manufacturers making carbon fiber parts. In fact, it’s quite conceivable a complex mold for traditional production techniques could be as costly as the 380mc Carbon Fiber Edition itself!
Finally, I am curious about the timing of this announcement. Since this is simply a modification of their existing equipment, it could have been done far earlier. The 380mc is not a new machine, having been announced way back in 2014, four years ago! Why update it now? I suspect that the company may be feeling a bit of pressure from an increasing number of professional desktop 3D printers that can print with various forms of carbon fiber material. These tend to be less expensive than Stratasys’ options, and thus could attract attention.
But consider an existing Stratasys client that has several machines and is contemplating adding an experimental inexpensive carbon fiber option because it’s a new thing for them. Stratasys has to provide a path for them that provides that lower-cost option without the client having to consider alternatives.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done.
The Fortus380mc Carbon Fiber Edition is now shipping and will be showcased at Stratasys’ booth at the upcoming IMTS.