12. August 2020

Wood: Fibre-Reinforced Components from the 3D Printer

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is far superior to other methods when it comes to cost efficiency, customizability and sustainability. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly common in more and more fields. And the possibilities are still far from exhausted. On the FFG project eFAM4Ind (Endless fiber reinforced additive manufacturing for industrial applications) launched in April 2020, these possibilities are being explored in the high-performance product segment and lightweight construction:

Under the leadership of the Chair of Materials Science and Testing of Polymers at Montanuniversität Leoben and in conjunction with SinusPro, the Polymer Competence Center Leoben (PCCL), Kompetenzzentrum Holz and Head Sport as research partners, testing and simulation routines are to be developed to predict the durability and service life of fibre-reinforced components produced by 3D printers.

Highly stressed industrial applications are still a difficult area for additive manufacturing: the materials that are used or usable often fail to meet the demands of such applications, or their reliability and service life cannot yet be estimated. However, the use of reinforcing fillers such as glass, carbon or natural fibres can significantly improve the properties. Such reinforcing materials can be and have already been successfully used with the FFF method (“fused filament fabrication” strand-laying process, known from commercially available desktop 3D printers). With the FFF method, a wide variety of fibres and lengths can be used – from short to endless.

FFG project: getting 3D printing ready for high-performance applications

Besides the challenges involved in manufacturing these components, there are also those relating to testing their reliability and durability. The problem area in additive manufacturing is usually the quality of the weld seams between the deposited strands. Although component testing under real conditions would be useful, it is also very complex and cost-intensive. This type of life cycle analysis therefore contradicts the basic idea of additive manufacturing, namely the fast, efficient and thus sustainable production of parts. A more efficient possibility is the testing of test pieces in combination with process data and computer simulation. Routines already exist for established production processes, but unfortunately not yet for 3D printing.

New routine for greater reliability

The eFAM4Ind now aims to create testing routines also for 3D printing that are based on test piece tests and finite element (FEM) simulations. Since in the FFF process both process path and history are known, possible weak points in components can be calculated by means of FE models that incorporate these known parameters, and the service life can be predicted. The research at Montanuniversität Leoben focuses on testing materials and the filaments produced from them, testing prototypes and evaluating the data.

Potential applications could lie in the sports industry, since components of sports equipment often have to withstand high loads while remaining as light as possible. It is often also necessary or desired that equipment is perfectly adapted to the athlete and his/her requirements. In this case fibre composites are the ideal material solution, 3D printing the perfect manufacturing process.

(c) Kompetenzzentrum Holz GmbH