8/11/2016 | 1 MINUTE READ

Impossible Objects Introduces 3D-Printed PEEK Polymer Carbon Fiber Composite Parts

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PEEK combined with carbon fiber produces parts with the speed and cost advantages of carbon fiber, but the durability of metals.

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Impossible Objects has added polyetheretherketone (PEEK), a high-performance thermoplastic, to its 3D printing offering. According to the company, this marks the first time that geometrically complex, strong and light carbon fiber composites using PEEK can be 3D printed.

Since PEEK offers improved heat and chemical resistance in addition to greater strength, the combination of PEEK and carbon fiber produces parts with properties that previously were unattainable, Impossible Objects says. Benefits include the complex geometries, speed, strength-to-weight ratios and cost advantages of carbon fiber 3D printing, but with the durability and resistance to high temperature typically found in metals.

"Plastic-based 3D printing has not been able to compete with metals because of temperature resistance and strength. Now we can produce parts that begin to compete with metals in these areas, while having better strength-to-weight ratios than some metals," said Impossible Objects CEO Larry Kaplan. "Our mission is to bring 3D printing into the mainstream of higher volume, lightweight, high-performance part manufacturing. Adding PEEK to our roster of printable materials is a major step toward that goal."

Impossible Objects says that PEEK parts printed with its composite-based additive manufacturing (CBAM) process are more than 50 percent lighter than comparable aluminum parts but demonstrated two-thirds ultimate strength. The polymers can be recycled, reducing expense, waste and inefficiency.

Impossible Objects’ composite-based additive manufacturing process (CBAM) uses conventional thermal inkjet heads to "print" designs on sheets of composites, like carbon fiber, Kevlar or fiberglass. Each sheet is then flooded with a polymer powder, such as nylon or PEEK, causing the powder to stick where inkjet fluid has been deposited on the sheets. Excess powder is vacuumed off and the sheets are stacked, compressed and heated. The polymer powder melts and bonds the sheets together. The uncoated fibers are then mechanically or chemically removed, and what remains is an exceptionally durable, lightweight object that was previously impossible to make so quickly and inexpensively.

According to the company, the process yields geometrically complex parts with the strength-to-weight ratio of metals that are ideal for cases where having light parts without sacrificing strength is critical, including aerospace, aviation, defense, oilfield services, automotive, and performance athletics. 

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