A Marriage Made in Heaven: Carbon Fiber & 3D Printing

In previous posts, I’ve extolled the virtues of carbon fiber and I’ve also blogged about 3D printing (specifically about a 3D printed building). And now here’s where the two subjects come together…

A company called “MarkForged” has unveiled and is pre-selling a new carbon fiber 3D printer called the “Mark One”. While plastic 3D printers have become almost commonplace in recent months and years, this new printer is truly cutting edge.

Carbon fiber is as difficult to work with as it is amazing. It’s partly what makes it so expensive, since it requires hours of labour-intensive, hands-on work to manufacture items that are both exceptionally strong and incredibly lightweight. Not surprisingly, its use tends to be reserved for industries like aerospace and high-end automotive. You’ve got to have deep pockets like NASA and Formula One contenders to be able to afford carbon fiber components or products.

But even in these industries, pure carbon fiber isn’t used—it’s typically mixed with other materials to make composites.

Whether it’s fan blades on airplane jets, car parts or even musical instruments, the manufacture of carbon fiber items involves layering many sheets of carbon fiber fabric by hand, adding an adhesive, trimming the excess or rough edges and then curing or drying the product.

With the new Mark One printer, the machine does all the work and eliminates the curing process. It has two print heads so that other materials like plastic or nylon can be added.

The Mark One printer itself is about the size of a microwave oven. In addition to carbon fiber, it will also print using fiberglass and Kevlar.

If you’re curious, one of these babies will set you back $5K (US dollars) and if you want the “kit” that includes twice the materials, it will be almost $9K.  And in case you wondered who invented this incredible device, it is an aerospace engineer named Greg Mark, who also just happens to have a background working on race cars.

One thing is for sure; it’s going to be fascinating watching where this new technology takes us.