Impossible Objects and Owens Corning set to develop fiberglass composites for 3D printing

3D printer manufacturer Impossible Objects has entered a joint development agreement with Owens Corning, a provider of industrial building materials, to develop specialized composite materials for 3D printing.

Set to be used with Impossible Objects’ composite-based additive manufacturing (CBAM) process, the fiberglass composites will reportedly offer high strength-to-weight ratios and excellent chemical resistances. Also boasting low costs, the materials are intended as a viable alternative to metals such as aluminum, enabling high-performance 3D printed parts.

“Owens Corning is committed to the development of composite materials and their applications,” said Dr. Chris Skinner, Vice President of Strategic Marketing, Composites, Owens Corning. “We seek to be at the forefront of new processing and new applications involving composites.”

The CBAM-2 3D printer. Image via Impossible Objects.
The CBAM-2 3D printer. Photo via Impossible Objects.

Composite-based additive manufacturing

The CBAM process operates on a high-speed inkjet-based 3D printing method. First, long-fiber sheets of carbon or fiberglass are fed into the CBAM system, where layers of a part are deposited onto the sheets using clear fluid and thermal inkjet technology. The binding polymer powder is then used to coat the fiber sheet, where it selectively adheres to the sections with the printing fluid. When the excess powder is removed, a powdered layer in the shape of the printed fluid is left behind.

Once the process is repeated for all layers in a part, the individual long-fiber sheets are stacked on top of each other and pressed at high-temperatures. This melts the polymer and compresses the consolidated part into its final height. Finally, the unbonded portions of the fiber sheets are mechanically or chemically removed, leaving nothing but the final 3D printed part.

Impossible Objects claims its 3D printing technology can produce parts up to ten times faster than FFF, and is compatible with high-performance polymers like Nylon and PEEK.

“Our CBAM process is a revolution in 3D printing, with faster speeds, better material properties and wider material selection,” said Robert Swartz, chairman and founder of Impossible Objects. “This collaboration with Owens Corning will allow us to quickly experiment with and refine new materials to significantly lower cost and bring unprecedented options for additive manufacturing.”

The 6 steps of the composite-based additive manufacturing (CBAM) process. Image via Impossible Objects.
The 6 steps of the composite-based additive manufacturing (CBAM) process. Image via Impossible Objects.

A composite collaboration

By combining the CBAM process with Owens Corning’s glass non-woven manufacturing expertise, the partnership is expected to scale CBAM 3D printing for high-strength, high-volume applications. The end goal is for the technology to eventually compete with processes such as injection molding, except CBAM would also eliminate long lead times and tooling costs, all while enabling mass part customization.

The partners also see great value in lowering material costs when it comes to additive manufacturing adoption, as conventional 3D printing materials can cost up to eight times more than traditional manufacturing materials.

Skinner adds, “We have found the Impossible Objects technology and know-how potentially transformative for the conversion of some applications to composites. Because we believe it can be successful and deliver value to the market and our customers, we’ve entered into a joint agreement to support the development further.”

3D printed CBAM parts. Photo via Impossible Objects.
3D printed CBAM parts. Photo via Impossible Objects.

The world of composite 3D printing can provide a whole host of benefits in the way of part strength, customization, and thermal and chemical properties. Earlier this month, Continuous Composites, a developer of composite 3D printing technology, 3D printed power generator components for energy technology firm Siemens Energy. Using Continuous Composites’ proprietary Continuous Fiber 3D Printing (CF3D) process, the partners were able to manufacture the generator parts with drastic cost and lead time reductions.

Elsewhere, Netherlands-based 3D printing materials specialist Liqcreate recently added a new ultra-rigid ceramic-reinforced composite resin to its photopolymer portfolio. Composite-X is the strongest material in Liqcreate’s engineering range, and features an impressive flexural modulus of over 9000 MPa.

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Featured image shows 3D printed CBAM parts. Photo via Impossible Objects.