Ever since continuous fiber 3D printers burst onto the scene in 2014, engineers around the world have sought a system that could 3D print large-scale continuous fiber-reinforced parts.
Figure 1. Continuous fiber filament extrusion 2.5D (Source: Markforged)
The ability to purely additively produce complex parts with high strength and low weight, without expensive layup tools or autoclaves, was increasingly sought after. This has created a niche of opportunity for new innovations among the machine tool building startups, who are challenging the status quo and aiming for the multi-billion euro rapid large-scale thermoplastic composites market.
Many in the 3D printing industry will argue that large-scale continuous fiber 3D printing already exists in the form of continuous fiber extruders. For example, fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers have a mechanism that introduces the continuous fiber in the molten thermoplastic stream, embedding it in the printed part.
Other processes use UV-catalyzed thermoset resins, mixing their continuous fiber reinforcement with the resin right at the tool point, and initiating the snap-cure resin with UV radiation in the process.
However, any composites engineer who has worked in the Aerospace or Formula-1 industry can notice that the composites produced this way has a limitation of 2.5d motion and lacks the critical layer-to-layer bonding. These technologies are however capable of producing larger FDM style prints with less thermal distortion.