May 20, 2021

How Does Carbon Fiber 3D Printing Work?

Carbon fiber is a high-tech material that is now being used in 3D printers to quickly manufacture parts in a number of industries.

Imagine a material that boasts high strength, heat resistance, and durability. Thanks to constant innovation, not only does carbon fiber provide all of these qualities, but also represents a new option for 3D printing.

What Is Carbon Fiber 3D printing?

Imagine a material that boasts high strength, heat resistance, and durability. Thanks to constant innovation, not only does carbon fiber provide all of these qualities, but also represents a new option for 3D printing.

Now, there’s a new alternative to thermoplastic materials that offers more structural integrity for pieces that can withstand more stress.

Carbon fiber 3D printing is a practice where a printer uses carbon fiber to create custom shapes, designs, and objects. A 3D printer dispenses controlled amounts of carbon fibers that are then woven into the desired shape, including sheets, rods, or other arrangements.

3D Printing Applications

Carbon fiber offers as much versatility as any other 3D printing material. Generally, you can opt for one of two application methods with carbon fiber: chopped fibers and continuous fibers.

Chopped fibers make use of carbon fiber’s unique properties in conjunction with other materials. As part of this application method, the printer will chop millimeter-sized pieces of carbon fiber to mix with thermoplastics.

Continuous fibers use different types of machines that have a secondary nozzle to coat dispensed carbon fibers with a curing agent. This application allows for continuous dispensing for you to shape the dispensed fibers in the shape of your choice.

What Are the Benefits to 3D Printing with Carbon Fiber?

Carbon fiber has lots of advantages over other printing and building materials, so it’s no surprise that it’s growing in popularity. Carbon fiber has superior chemical and heat resistance, high tensile strength, a high strength-to-weight ratio, and a high FST rating.

Chemical and Heat Resistance

High chemical and heat resistance allows carbon fiber-based projects and builds to hold up in more extreme conditions. This means that carbon fiber prints can stand up to more acidic or basic conditions, as well as hotter and colder conditions, than many other materials.

High Tensile Strength

Tensile strength refers to a material’s ability to withstand pressures from stretching or pulling. Carbon fiber offers significant tensile strength that gives the overall build an important level of flexibility.

High Strength-to-Weight Ratio and FST Rating

Carbon fiber has one of the highest strength-to-weight ratios, meaning it is extremely strong for its lightweight. This means that a carbon fiber-printed object can survive more stress with less reinforcement while weighing less.

What Are the Challenges of Printing with Carbon Fiber?

With all these benefits, carbon fiber may seem like an attractive choice for 3D printing. However, the material comes with its own set of challenges that newcomers should take into consideration to avoid causing any damage to people or machinery.

Carbon Fiber Filled Materials Require More Heat to Achieve Full Layer Bond Strength

This means some 3d printers will not be able to reach the heat necessary to use carbon fiber. It also means that your project may take more time and more energy to complete. Keep this in mind when planning your project to make sure you allow enough time.

Carbon Fiber Filled Materials Are Abrasive Like Sandpaper

As with any home project, we recommend the use of personal protective equipment. But not only does carbon fiber’s abrasive nature warrant the use of PPE, it also means that a carbon fiber-based project could damage work surfaces or rub through non-steel nozzles. Make sure to work on carbon fiber projects in an area that won’t be easily damaged.

Carbon Fiber Filled Materials Are Significantly More Expensive Than Their Unfilled Counterparts

Carbon fiber is in high demand for many of the reasons we’ve discussed above. This drives up the cost of carbon fiber. You’ll have to consider the benefits of carbon fiber and the needs of your project to determine if the cost makes sense.

Requirements to Work with Carbon Fiber Filaments

In spite of the challenges that come with carbon fiber printing, you can take several measures to circumvent any problems. Special parts and tools can help with this.

Tool Steel Nozzles

You will need a specialized tool steel nozzle to avoid clogging the standard nozzle of your printer. This will also result in a better finish on the carbon surface, whereas a standard nozzle can damage carbon fiber surfaces.

Fast-Heating Print Bed

A fast-heating print bed not only helps to cut down on production time, but it also makes sure that any carbon fiber material you use comes to the proper working temperature. If you don’t have a fast-heating print bed, carbon fiber can damage the inner workings of your machine.

3D Printer for Carbon Fiber Filaments

Printing with carbon fiber filaments requires specialized parts. If you find that you’re using carbon fiber filaments frequently, you may need to research and find a specialized printer that contains parts such as the secondary dispensing pipe to cure carbon fiber with resin.

Insulated Build Envelope

Carbon fiber’s high heat resistance requires more heat and energy for the material to become pliable enough to work. An insulated build envelope will protect your machine and work surfaces from heat damage as the material heat up to working temperature.

Heated Filament Chambers

Heated filament chambers are necessary to properly incorporate chopped fibers into thermoplastic structures. Without these heated filament chambers, your build could end up lacking carbon fiber’s typical strength and chemical resistance.

Carbon Fiber 3D Printing FAQ

Do I need to get a carbon-fiber-specific printer for carbon fiber printing?

No – you can use a general 3D printer with specialized parts. However, we recommend researching the properties of your printer to avoid causing any damage to your machine or injury to yourself.

How is carbon fiber filament made?

Carbon fiber filament is made by chopping carbon fiber into tiny pieces that are mixed into a thermoplastic mold to add strength.

Is carbon fiber stronger than steel?

Pure carbon fiber does not shrink and can be up to five times stronger than steel.

How much does a carbon fiber 3D printer cost?

Carbon fiber 3D printers can range from about $900 to several thousand dollars. However, you don’t need an industrial-grade $50,000 printer to effectively use carbon fiber.

How strong is 3D printed carbon fiber?

Carbon fiber is as strong as steel – but at just a fraction of the weight.

Start A Carbon Fiber 3d Printing Project With TFGUSA

The Federal Group USA is dedicated to staying ahead of the curve when it comes to metal fabrication and manufacturing technology. With 3D printing rapidly changing how companies design and manufacture products, The Federal Group USA is excited to now be fully operational in the additive manufacturing space.

If you’re interested in learning more about our carbon fiber 3d printing processes or would like a quote for your next prototyping or manufacturing project, feel free to reach out to one of our experienced sales representatives for more information.

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