Gregory Mark co-owns Aeromotions, which builds computer-controlled racecar wings. To make those wings both strong and lightweight, they use carbon fiber. No surprise there—it's the material of choice for many advanced motorsports parts. The problem is that making custom racecar parts out of carbon fiber is daunting. The only real method available is CNC machining, an expensive and difficult process that requires laying pieces by hand.
To improve the process, Mark looked to 3D printing. But nothing on the market could print the material, and no available materials could print pieces strong enough for his purposes. So Mark devised his own solution: the MarkForged Mark One, the world's first carbon fiber 3D printer.
Mark debuted his Boston area-based startup MarkForged at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego with a working prototype. The Mark One can print in carbon fiber, fiberglass, nylon and PLA (a thermoplastic).
"We took the idea of 3D printing, that process of laying things down strand by strand, and we used it as a manufacturing process to make composite parts," he told PopMech. "We say it's like regular 3D printers do the form. We do form and function."
What you notice first about MarkForged's printer is its amazing simplicity. With an anodized aluminum unibody and a translucent printing bed, it looks like the Mac of 3D printing. The Mark One employs kinematic coupling for consistent bed leveling, meaning you won't need to worry about making sure the bed is leveled correctly after each print. It's also compact, measuring 22.6 inches wide, 14.2 inches tall, and 12.7 inches deep—a good desktop size.
The main advantage of the Mark One: It can print parts 20 times stiffer and five times stronger than ABS, according to the company. It even has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than CNC-machined aluminum. The racecar wing, for example, is printed with a nylon outershell and honeycomb structure, with a carbon fiber reinforced core. Mark says that he imagines this machine is for anybody who wants to print in a material as strong as aluminum. Beyond racecars, it could be useful to industries like prosthetics.
"There are a bunch of people who are interested in the prosthetics side," he says. "There's a whole fit component. It has to fit on your body. That's something that's more art than science, you want to print out a whole bunch of different versions and test them out," Mark says. "But then when you have your final version, you want to make exactly that, but really strong. [With] this printer‚ once you want to make it strong, you print it in composites."
The Mark One isn't limited to commercial use. With a price $5000, Mark wants to make sure printing in carbon fiber is available to consumers as well.
"It's a material that everybody knows, but probably most people haven't used. So we made the price low and you can start using it. We wanted to make it really easy for people to start printing with it, so they can explore prosthetics, custom bones, tools, and fixtures."
It's potentially a huge step for 3D printing, which has been limited mainly to plastics, limiting its real-world applications. The MarkForged also could help the prototyping phase for companies producing aluminum and carbon fiber products by providing an even more precise model.
The MarkForged Mark One will be available for pre-order starting in February. You can sign up for notifications at the company's website. Units will start shipping in the second half of 2014. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/news/new-3d-printer-by-markforged-can-print-with-carbon-fiber-16428727?click=pm_latest