Technologyreview – Someday, carbon fiber might live up to its hype and make all of our cars and airplanes more lightweight and efficient. Today, though, parts made of the material are very expensive, and are used mainly in race cars, high-end sports cars, and new jetliners. Some entrepreneurs are now betting that the key to making carbon-fiber parts much cheaper and more widely used is 3-D printing technology.
The benefits of carbon fiber are so great—parts made of it can be as strong as aluminum ones while weighing less—that “anyone who can afford it” is already using it in aerospace and automotive applications, says Greg Mark, CEO and founder of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup MarkForged. But it’s too expensive for the mainstream, and a big reason for that is the way it’s made: a complicated, labor- and time-intensive process with many steps that must be done by hand (see “Where’s the Affordable Carbon-Fiber Automobile?”). Mark says the new process his company has developed is as simple as designing the part on the computer, pushing a button, and retrieving the part several hours later.
The ability to print carbon-fiber parts will make 3-D printing much more useful for many industries, according to Robert Swartz, chairman, founder, and chief technology officer for Chicago-based startup Impossible Objects. Most of the plastic parts made using existing 3-D printing technologies don’t perform well enough to be used, say, in a drone. “There’s a real need for functionality,” says Swartz, and that requires better materials. Continue reading “Is 3-D Printing the Key to Cheap Carbon-Fiber Parts?”→