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The Manufacturing Reinvented. 3D Print The Future event was a chance to discover, together with Markforged, the new solutions and opportunities offered by 3D Printing with composite materials.
Thanks to the collaboration of Cmf Marelli, the main factors that characterise 3D printing in the professional sphere were examined. The event was also an opportunity to test the Markforged Mark Two 3D printer. The US company’s goal was to make a product that delivers performances on a par with high-end systems – but with substantially reduced dimensions and costs – widely accessible.
Mission accomplished? Together with the experts and enthusiasts that joined Protocube for the event at the Reply Solar Social Lab, we attempted to answer some of the key questions.
Why composite materials?
The concept is very simple. By combining two materials it is possible to obtain a composite with superior characteristics to the basic materials. More specifically, these benefits include improved strength, rigidity, flexibility and behaviour at critical temperatures.
In addition to these factors composites also offer huge potential in design terms. In fact, the reinforcing material can be applied just to specific areas where special performances are required. An approach that makes it possible to significantly optimise the design of the product, its weight and its final cost.
Markforged uses a proprietary printing process known as CFF (Continuous Filament Fabrication) with two nozzles that use two filaments. The base material is Nylon or Onyx, a patented Markforged material consisting of a blend of Nylon and Carbon. During the print fusion process a reinforcing material is added, obtained from a second filament in carbon fibre, Kevlar or fibreglass. Each of these makes it possible to produce parts with characteristics and specifications that are also very different from each other, permitting a wide range of applications.
Tooling and Functional Prototyping. These are the two main macro sectors in which the performance levels of CFF technology are such that it can even be used as a replacement, or partial replacement, for metal materials. A factor that makes it possible to adopt solutions that are far more economical than the 3D printing of metals, as well as “readier” from a technological perspective.
The possibility of using a 3D printer like the Markforged Mark Two for small-scale production for final use is not to be ruled out given its decent speed and its ability to produce structural parts.
Hit or miss?
The Markforged Mark Two is a very interesting product in many ways. Its most distinctive features compared with the majority of professional solutions on the market are its reduced footprint, which allows it to be positioned on any desk, and its very interesting entry-level price. Costing “only” €6000 in the entry-level version, the Markforged Mark Two is aimed at companies that want to try 3D printing with composite materials without having to make prohibitive investments.
Considering the price range and the aims of the product, the build size, 320mm x 132mm x 154mm, is sufficiently generous to enable it to carry out the majority of its applications. In terms of performance, the samples produced during the test generated positive feedback in terms of both precision (consistent with the 100 micron resolution and 10 micron tolerance detailed in the product specifications, Ed.) and reliability.
Proprietary management software Eiger proved to be an intuitive interface and is also entirely cloud-based, a detail that makes it very easy to use Markforged solutions also at different workstations while also offering the possibility of remote monitoring.
Although it logically makes a few compromises compared with much costlier solutions, the Markforged Mark Two therefore makes it possible to use composite materials in the professional sphere. For those that need higher levels of performance, Markforged also offers a superior range of solutions. These include the Mark X, which guarantees better print resolution, speed, precision and control, as well as a superior build size. But at a significantly higher cost.
Is it a 3D printer for everyone?
Yes and no.
Although its management interface is quite straightforward, because of the complexity of the applications that are able to unleash its significant potential, a series of across-the-board skills is needed to fully exploit a 3D printer like the Markforged Mark Two. This does not just apply to this particular solution but to the use of composite materials in general.
When we talk about 3D printing at professional level, any responsible evaluation will inevitably conclude that the idea of “click and print” is still something of a fantasy. Saying otherwise would be to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
What we can say today is that thanks to the availability of high-level technology at far lower prices, compared with the past professional 3D printing is finally accessible for a wide range of applications which until now had been prohibitive due to their costs.
In addition, to integrate 3D printing on the basis of your company’s needs all you need to do is get some qualified basic consultancy in order to provide internal training and solve the problems that may be generated by specific applications.
This post is also available in: Italiano