Liquid Thermoplastics Process Like Composite Thermosets

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 7. March 2014

The continued evolution of thermoplastic composites just got even more interesting with this week’s launch by Arkema of the first range of a novel family of liquid thermoplastics that are transformed via reactive closed-mold processes such as room-temperature infusion, RTM, and flex-molding as used for composite thermosets. Elium resins boast quick polymerization and can be used to design structural parts as well as aesthetic elements in the automotive, transportation, wind power, sports and building and construction industries.


Arkema formulated these novel resins based on a high-molecular-weight acrylic polymer under peroxide initiated radical polymerization, using the company’s Luperox organic peroxide which was specifically developed for this purpose, according to product manager Sebastien Taillemite. Composite parts made from Elium are 30-50% lighter than their steel counterparts, but offer the same resistance.  Such parts cost less to manufacture than other thermoplastic composite technologies: they are said to be easy to use in thermoset processes, transform at room temperature, and do not contain any fabricated products like organo-sheets. Elium resins have a range of reactivity based on the grade. Certain grades have been optimized for elevated temperature curing in a matter of minutes to room temperature with part cycle times ranging from 20 min. to a few hours depending on the part size and process.


Says Taillemite, “The technology allows us to obtain a thermoplastic polymer that is recyclable, weldable and thermoformable at 200-220 C (392-428 F), and its high molecular weight results in mechanical properties that are excellent and enable the manufacture of structural parts with both carbon fiber and glass fiber, when the correct sizing is used.” He gives the example of Arkema’s collaboration with Belgium fiberglass producer 3B to develop a specific glass fiber sizing that enhances matrix-fiber adhesion.  At this stage, Elium has been brought to the level of epoxies with respect to mechanical properties, but with much higher toughness than epoxies and no need for post-curing to reach the glass transition temperature (Tg). The company has customers who have made very different parts from Elium, from boat hulls to vehicle parts, and also most recently a wind blade. Traditional plastics processing equipment can be utilized in the reprocessing of recycled and reclaimed material.


The company will be exhibiting some of these parts at JEC Europe in Paris next week. We hope to gain more insight on this new development and possibly incorporate it into our Thermoplastic Composites for Automotive conference program jointly developed by Composites World and Plastics Technology and co-located with Amerimold 2014 in June.




Celanese Bolsters Thermoplastic Composite Development Efforts

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 6. March 2014

Not surprisingly at all, Celanese Corp. has extended its contract for another two years with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) of Germany’s RWTH Aachen University, to jointly develop thermoplastic composites for automotive, construction, and oil and gas applications.  


AZL was launched last year with 33 founding members to focus on developing lightweight components. Among the consortium members are Celanese, DSM, DuPont, LANXESS, Rochling, SABIC, TenCate, and Toyota Motor Europe. Says Michael Ruby, Celanese global composites business manager, “The effort in developing potential new business opportunities for applications that use composite solutions from the Celanese broad portfolio of engineered materials is significantly reduced by approaching the task with a strong network collaborator such as AZL.” 


As a founding AZL member, the company has focused on projects to reduce manufacturing costs and increase productivity for thermoplastic composite parts. One such joint study has identified applications, components, distribution channels, production volumes, economic potential, and requirements for materials and process chains, across five major business sectors. Celanese thermoplastic composite offerings include unidirectional (UD) tapes, rods and profiles.

Celanese’s Michael Ruby will discuss “Hydrogen Storage for Automotive Using Thermoplastic Composites”, at the Thermoplastic Composites for Automotive conference jointly developed by Composites World and Plastics Technology and co-located with Amerimold 2014, scheduled June 11-12 in Novi, Michigan.


First Carbon Fiber 3D Printer Is Here With Another On Its Heels

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 3. March 2014

Pre-orders are being placed for what is said to be the world’s first 3D printer that can print objects using composite materials, including continuous carbon fiber. The Mark One from Boston-based Mark Forged will be commercially available mid-year at a $5000 price tag. Meanwhile, another 3D printer that also uses carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic filament is well under development at Canada-based Freespace Composites with a longer lead time to market.


The Mark One is a compact machine with a build size of 22.6 x 14.2 x 12.7 in. that employs a FDM-type technology. The process actually utilizes two different extraction methods: Fused Filament Fabrication, at a resolution of 100 microns, and Composite Filament Fabrication, at a resolution of 200 microns, depending on the material used.  At the moment, Mark Forged is making four materials available with initial pricing included:


• Carbon Fiber CFF Filament, priced at $550/lb, is said to print like plastic but stiffer than aluminum. This patent-pending composite is 20 times stiffer than ABS, and is stronger than 6061-T6 aluminum by weight. It is said to be ideal for fixtures, jigs, and parts that need the highest strength-to-weight ratio.

• Fiberglass CFF Filament, priced at $199/lb, is touted as a perfect alternative when the strength of Carbon Fiber Filament are needed, but the stiffness and weight are less critical. Also patent-pending, it uses the same Continuous Filament Fabrication process for impressive strength, but at much lower cost.

• Nylon FFF Filament, priced at $99/lb, is reportedly “fantastically” flexible, but tough as nails, and boasts great fatigue and impact resistance. It is said to be well suited for use as an outer protective layer to keep fixtures and tooling from scratching sensitive parts and is also viewed as an great choice for tabs, clips, and mechanical fasteners.

• PLA FFF Filament, priced at $22/lb, is biodegradable with minimal shrinkage. It is targeted for the production of quick prototype for testing form and fit.


Yet another interesting feature of the Mark One is a kinetic coupling incorporated for the printer’s build platform which allows the build bed to remain level—within 10 microns, during multiple project builds without the need for repeated adjustment.


Meanwhile, Freespace Composites is developing its own 3D printing technology that employs a proprietary process that uses carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic filament that is “placed optimally and continuously” in a 6-axis printer in “free space” that allows the machine to produce, ultimately, a continuous fiber structure. This system is said to allow for more complex parts to be  built with multiple parts that are subsequently consolidated together. Further, additional heads will allow in-process stitching and weaving of fibers.


President and composites specialist Nathan Armstrong  believes this technology could substantially change how complex structural composite parts are manufactured. Users could simply feed their 3D design into a “feedback loop” software Armstrong developed, and than the software iteratively calculates part optimization vs. fiber placement to make the part printable on a 3D printer. “It skips the entire traditional engineering design process and produces highly optimized parts with zero material waste.”


 The company is looking to develop a variety of material inputs for its system, including glass and carbon fiber and a variety of thermoplastic and thermoset materials. In the near term, they are working with easier to process thermoplastics, such as PLA, along with carbon and glass fibers. Their strategy is to work with prospective end users throughout this development process including material qualification. Freespace Composites is aiming to commercially launch the combined design/3D printing system in about three years.


Custom Molder Gets More Mileage From 3D Printer

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 28. February 2014

Getting even more out of its investment of bringing 3D printing design capabilities in-house a couple of years ago in order to produce 3D fit-form-function prototypes that can be verified before making a costly steel mold is very satisfying to Currier Plastics, a custom injection molder and blow molder, primarily of packaging, as well as amenities, household consumables, electronic connectors, and medical-measuring devices.


Since its acquisition of an Objet 30 3D printer from Stratasys, which allows it to use photopolymers that simulate ABS and PP, the company has printed approximately 425 bottles, jars, canisters, closures, and lids, and continues to find new uses for this additive manufacturing technology.

Says v.p. of new product development Gary Kieffer, “Lately, we’ve had a few occasions where we’ve utilized the 3D printer for jobs other than product development. First, our design and QA teams, collaborated to make a Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerancing (GD&T)—a holding fixture for a new custom bottle we designed. This fixture will help to simplify part inspection and would normally have cost at least $1200 to manufacture. Then, our automation engineer was working on a modification of a cap-closing station. The vendor sent in the base plate and flipper bar models and we printed them overnight and validated the redesign, saving not only cost but also shaving about two weeks off the unit tools lead-time. As we experiment more and more, our team is finding out that our 3D printer is worth its weight in gold.” 

Cincinnati Inc. and Oak Ridge National Lab Partner On Large-Part Additive Manufacturing

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 26. February 2014

To help you keep up, you can check out our feature story in PT’s March issue, which addresses materials advances and limitations. Here on the blog, meanwhile, is some interesting news in the additive manufacturing space announced just this week.

A partnership to develop a new large-scale additive manufacturing system capable of printing plastic components up to ten times larger than what are currently produced, and at speeds 200 to 500 times faster than existing machines has been formed by Cincinnati Inc. and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Signed earlier this week at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the partnership agreement will aim to introduce significant new capabilities to the U.S. machine tool sector, which supplies manufacturing technology to a wider range of industries including automotive, aerospace, appliance and robotics. The partnership supports DOE’s initiative to increase the efficiency of U.S. manufacturing and continue the development of innovative technologies.

Already under development, the prototype of the large-scale additive manufacturing machine utilizes the chassis and drives of Cincinnati’s gantry-style laser cutting systems as the base, with plans to incorporate a high-speed cutting tool, pellet-feed mechanism and control software for additional capability.

Cincinnati’s experience in designing, making and controlling large-scale manufacturing systems as well as its long working relationship with ORNL—they have supplied over 40 metal working machine tools to ORNL and its subcontractors over the years--led to this partnership. The company was the first laser-cutting system manufacturer to use high-speed linear-motor-axis drives, developed in-house, with accelerations exceeding 2.0G and head positioning speeds of up to 10,000 in./min. The proprietary drives deliver positioning accuracy of +-0.001 in. per axis, with work envelopes up to 8 ft. x 20 ft.  “We have the largest installed base of high-speed laser-cutting systems, so this machine platform has been field tested and proven to be virtually trouble free,” says Cincinnati Inc.’s  CEO Andrew Jamison. 

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