The robots are coming – with a helping hand from carbon fiber 3D printing

An injection moulding specialist has discovered the power of carbon fiber material– and says it has already become a critical part of its manufacturing process.

Rutland Plastics, which produces parts for industries such as medical, consumer goods and utilities, has recently sourced a Stratasys Fortus 380mc Carbon Fiber edition from SYS Systems, a UK platinum partner for Stratasys.

The East-Midlands-based business has employed in-house 3D printing since 2012, but its latest upgrade is allowing it to break new ground in collaborative robotics.

Carbon fiber is a light but incredibly tough engineering-grade thermoplastic, giving unparalleled strength for dependable functional prototyping, end-use parts and rugged tooling, often replacing low-volume metal parts.

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Simon Grainger, Design and Project Engineering Manager at Rutland Plastics, said: “The Fortus 380CF is ideal as it can print 30 per cent carbon filled nylon, which is excellent for producing end-of-arm tooling because it’s strong and durable but also lightweight, meaning our robots can run faster and we can maximise payload.

“3D printing gives us greater design flexibility. It allows us to design end-of-arm tooling and jigs and fixtures for their specific purpose, and complexity doesn’t increase cost.”

Without the cost normally associated with a high-end printer, the Stratasys Fortus 380 guarantees accurate, reliable, optimum-strength parts using ASA and FDM Nylon 12 Carbon Fiber, a material boasting the highest stiffness-to-weight ratio of any FDM option.

What are the benefits of carbon fiber 3d printing?

Stratasys carbon fiber material contains 35 per cent chopped carbon fibres, compared with the 15 per cent figure of its nearest rival, and achieves 30 to 50 per cent higher density on finished parts.

The Fortus 380 prints four to five times faster than anything else out there using carbon fiber – but that does not come at the expense of quality. An easily soluble support system allows users to create more complex geometries, with the support material adhering to the build tray.

Mr Grainger added: “This is our first introduction into carbon fiber printing and it’s become massively important to the way that we produce all of our jigs and fixtures, and especially end-of-arm tooling

Carbon fiber 3d printing end of arm tooling

“Other benefits include being able to produce functional prototypes which allow us to check fit, function and cosmetics.

“We can incorporate features and mechanisms such as air channels, and we can also use GrabCAD software to pause prints so that we can stop and put components into the actual 3D-printed parts, such as magnets and sensors, and completely encase them.

“Up until now we’ve never been able to offer low-volume production parts, but the Fortus 380CF allows us to do this to bridge the gap from research and development to production.”

SYS Systems Sales Manager Rob Thompson said: “The Fortus range can create accurate, repeatable parts quicker than ever before, with many of the engineering-grade and high-performance thermoplastics used in traditional manufacturing processes.

“We’re delighted to have been able to tailor a specific 3D-printing solution for Rutland Plastics’ needs and look forward to seeing them build on their already considerable success.”

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