Updated: Jul 18, 2020
Images source: miniFactory, Finland
What is Carbon Fiber?
Invented over 160 years ago, carbon fiber is made of a long chain of carbon atoms bonded together. In most cases, it is mixed with other materials to reinforce them for achieving higher stiffness, strength, chemical and temperature resistance.
Carbon Fiber and 3D Printing
The common use of Carbon Fiber is with FDM filaments - chopped and mix 10%-30% with Nylon 12. It is used for producing structural elements that needs to be lightweight, and this is why it’s a popular material across many industries, such as Aerospace, Automotive, and Aviation.
Relatively easy to print with 3D printers
Offer great mechanical properties in a very reasonable cost
Produced by more than several manufacturers
Can damage nozzle heads if not used properly
More clogging issues compared to other standards materials
Surface finish can be challenging
Image source: INTAMSYS, China
Comparing Carbon Fiber 3D Printers
The 3D Printer’s Manufacturers
One of the big advantages of Carbon Fiber 3D printing is the large number of manufacturers both for the printers and materials. On the other hand, not every printer can provide high standards results, and this is why it’s important to filter down the right suppliers if you are looking for a professional solution. Key points of consider:
How many years the vendor has experience with printing advanced materials.
Does the manufacturers/their sales partners have enough knowledge and experience with training end-users to print advanced materials.
Are the printer’s specs suitable for printing high-performance materials such as – suitable extruder and print bed temperature.
After finding and examining the products of different vendors, now comes an important step of evaluating and comparing their technologies. Specs are great, but printed samples are the best way to dive deeper in your comparison process. Two possible steps:
Sample parts – examine parts that were printed by the vendor which can give a first glance on quality, accuracy, surface finish & cost per part.
Benchmark printing – more advanced step in which you print your own part that represent your required applications and parts geometry. The best would be to print your 3D file with different technologies and then compare the results.
These two steps could help you filter down less suitable technologies and focus on that ones that seems to present higher performance.
Important step that can give you another perspective from a user point of view. Proving further inputs on the products itself, ease-of-use, the vendor's application and technical support, material printing challenges, successes and failures with different applications – all good to add to your comparison process.
The two critical elements are the price of the material and the 3D printer. The price of Carbon Fiber filament (mixed with variety of polymers) can be in the range of 100-300 euro per 1 kg, while the price of the printers can vary from 6,000 $ to 50K and above for industrial systems. From that perspective, productivity is also an element to consider and should affect your decision on which printer to eventually purchase.