Enter Additive Manufacturing

Extract from Desktop Metal’s ebook

To bring down those costs, manufacturers in recent years have turned to additive technology – with mixed results.
By far the most successful approach to 3D printing composite parts is a process known as Automated Fiber Placement (AFP), which relies on a robotic arm or gantry to lay resin-impregnated carbon fiber strands (typically referred to as tows) on molds or mandrels to build parts layer by layer.
The systems are most often used to form large parts, like airplane wings, wind turbine blades and – most famously – the fuselage of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Though faster than hand layup, AFP systems are also extremely expensive – often costing several million dollars – and require specialized facilities to operate effectively.

Other systems have taken different approaches to 3D printing composites.
One has been to print parts using only chopped fiber, but the parts they produce tend to have poor mechanical properties, and the cost of the systems – $100,000 or more – can be hard to justify.
Lower cost continuous fiber printers, meanwhile, face similar problems, including poor part performance due to low fiber volume, high porosity and a lack of materials variety.
The end result is that 3D printing today accounts for just a tiny fraction – less than one tenth of one percent – of the entire composite manufacturing market.