It is not hard to see why 3D printing is all the rage these days. 3D printers allow instant gratification: it affords people the opportunity to immediately get and hold in their hands the objects they want or need, albeit a version made from either plastic, resin or some other material. With this technology, there are limitless possibilities and for a number of different industries too, including the auto parts industry. However, 3D printing car parts is no longer just a possibility; it is already a reality, thanks to one particular 3D printer.
This printer is the MarkForged Mark One, the invention of Gregory Mark. Mark is an MIT-educated aerospace engineer and the owner of Aeromotions, a company that builds carbon fiber wings and spoilers for race cars.
Aeromotions adopted the old school way of making carbon fiber components—they manually layered the material for each part. Not only was this approach labor intensive, but also time-consuming. Because every component is custom made for each model, it took a long time for the company to design, build and deliver the products. At the end of the day, the company was selling pricey components but was barely earning profits.
Mark wanted to improve the building process and wondered how it could be done. He thought about using a 3D printer, but there are no 3D printers available that used carbon fiber. Mark then decided to build his own, and the end result was the MarkForged Mark One. It considerably cuts manufacturing time, though it employs a similar laying approach.
Unlike other 3D printers that use short fibers, the Mark One utilizes continuous carbon fibers. This makes the device capable of creating both prototypes and finished components. The kind of fibers used also boosts the strength and stiffness of the components, making the 3D printed parts just as strong and stiff as their machined or molded composite counterparts.
In fact, with carbon fiber as material, the Mark One can produce components 20 times stiffer and 5 times more durable than ABS plastic. It can also print parts with a strength-to-weight ratio higher than those made with CNC machined aluminum.
Though the Mark One is recognized as a carbon fiber printer, it can print with other materials. The device can print parts with nylon, fiberglass and polylactide (PLA).
Interestingly, this innovative machine is not huge. With a height of 14.2 inches and a width of 22.6 inches, it does not take too much space and is ideal for almost any desktop.
While the MarkForged Mark One’s production is currently limited to non-working parts, it will not be long before the technology paves the way for the printing of working parts, saving automakers a lot of time and effort.
Photo credit: markforged.com