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The greatest composites show on Earth is embracing additive manufacturing

At JEC World 2024 AM and composites continue to display powerful synergies, building tomorrow's most advanced parts

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VoxelMatters (under its various former names) has been covering, studying and analyzing the composites additive manufacturing segment for nearly 10 years. Soon we will be releasing our newest Composite AM 2024 market study, and going to great depths in highlighting all the newest commercial trends in this incredibly fascinating segment. Some things have changed dramatically – for example, the fact that LFAM composite tooling is now increasingly seen as a must-have application in composite manufacturing – while some things never change, including the fact that continuous fiber composites 3D printing is expected to be a must-have application of the future but remains very hard to implement commercially today. All of this and more was evident at JEC World 2024, simply the greatest composites show on Earth.

Note: for improved readability, you’ll find all images from the JEC 2024 show floor, of all products mentioned in this article, in the photo gallery at the end of the text.

Airtech’s dominating presence

One thing that has changed significantly since we first began studying the composites AM market is that there is now a clear market leader in composite pellet materials. Airtech was able to build a composite AM material business along with a composite AM service business and in doing so the company built a network connecting (with) the most important composite LFAM hardware and software technology companies. This year, the success of Airtech’s strategy was more evident than ever, with as many as 10 partner companies’ booths officially displaying projects made with Airtech materials – and several more showing parts made with Airtech materials even if they did not clearly state it.

For Airtech, the composites pellet market is just the right size to build a profitable and growing business while larger companies such as SABIC, Techmer, Mitsubishi Chemical or LEHVOSS have only marginally invested in building their market. While most of these companies continue to sell composite materials for LFAM, none of them was present with a booth at the show. This could be interpreted in a negative light, with demand simply not large enough to satisfy these large companies’ appetites, were it not for the fact that other, smaller but extremely capable companies are entering the pellet AM market. The one that has shown the most advanced capabilities and will to invest in growing the market is Xenia Materials, a composite materials specialist company that is working on optimizing a large portfolio of composite materials specifically for pellet 3D printing applications. Xenia reported a very significant level of interest in its material products during the show.

Having credible competitors enter the composites pellet material segment is a good sign for the market overall but of course, it will put more pressure on Airtech to expand its capabilities. And the company is not wasting time. In order to fuel a rapidly growing installed base of (millions of) desktop machines such as Bambu Lab’s P1s and X1s that can print composite filaments with relative ease, Airtech is rapidly expanding its line of 3D printing filaments to include PC/CF and PC/GF, PESU CF and rPET CF (recycled) – see the first photo in the gallery below. At the booth, the company also showed us several smaller-size composite parts printed on a Bambu Lab system and their quality was excellent. They explained that the parts were printed at a lower speed than what the P1 and X1 are capable of, but that is not necessarily an issue for the production of advanced engineering prototypes and even parts.

Airtech also put the spotlight on the circularity potential of its LFAM tooling applications using the Dahltram materials by showing the work conducted in enhancing the Brumos Collection’s Porsche GT2 RS Clubsport for 2023’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race. In support of this program, the company provided all essential materials, including its Dahltram C-250CF Polycarbonate, carbon fiber-reinforced material made from recycled tooling waste – to demonstrate the circular lifecycle capabilities for 3D printed tooling.

More hardware and technology companies

What is perhaps even more impressive is the sheer number of companies now offering powerful hardware LFAM systems for building extremely large composite tools using composite pellet materials. Listing them all is pointless so we will point out a few of the ones that have carved out a particularly significant position in the market. The most visible companies – at least in Europe, the largest global regional market today for composites – are Italian companies CMS and Caracol, along with Dutch company CEAD. In North America, the leadership is held tightly by Thermwood, with some competition from Ingersoll (which is part of Camozzi, an Italian company but is significantly more active in the US market via the Ingersoll branch).

CMS and Caracol further strengthened their position by announcing an alliance during JEC World that will see both companies cooperate on market development, thus making both robotic 6-axis (HERON AM) and gantry 5-axis (CMS Kreator) systems available to their clients. Announced by Caracol CEO Francesco De Stefano at the company’s booth, the collaborations also see Caracol further tighten its relationship with Airtech by qualifying all Dahltram resins for the HERON AM systems.

The greatest composites show on Earth is embracing AM: at JEC World 2024 AM and composites continue to display powerful synergies

The next set of relevant companies in composite LFAM technology sees CEAD continue to make progress with consistent organic growth and, in particular, its collaboration with Belotti on the BEAD gantry machine (which uses a CEAD extruder) and with Adaxis on the AdaOne software integration. Another notable application of Adaxis and Ai Build software, on a CEAD LFAM robot, saw specialist composite LFAM specialist LF3D (the LFAM spinoff of composite and additive manufacturing service provider MSA Manufacturing) produce a directly 3D printer, highly complex, large GFR maritime part (which was not on display at JEC 2024 but you can see the printing process in the video below).

The third most relevant company in the Airtech network is Weber Additive, the LFAM spinoff of the large German polymer extrusion specialist Hans WEBER Maschinenfabrik. Working with Ai Build, Weber Additive is offering both a robotic and gantry system, and reporting strong adoption rates within the parent company’s large customer network.

 

Beyond these leading players, there are several other companies making waves in the AM market. The most noticeable was Thermwood, which is by far the leading LFAM hardware and service provider in the North American market via a wide range of LSAM machines. For the first time, Thermwood brought a system to JEC World and showed actual printing. Ingersoll, the US-based LFAM branch of Italian machine tool company Camozzi, also remains as a leading player both in North America and Europe however the company is still struggling with finding an effective go-to-market strategy to fully exploit it’s Masterprint systems’ enormous potential.

Other companies are populating the LFAM hardware market, offering unique capabilities and highly industrialized hardware systems. Some of these were present in previous JEC World editions and include Spanish aerospace specialist Mt Torres, German industrial group Krauss Maffei and the Italian metal machine tool specialist Breton. JEC 2024 also saw the World premiere of the P Series Hybrid Multiax Solution from Italian company MULTIAX, integrating the extruder system developed by the startup REV3RD along with the Dahltram materials provided by Airtech.

The greatest composites show on Earth is embracing AM: at JEC World 2024 AM and composites continue to display powerful synergies

Last but not least, one company to keep a close eye on is DEMGY (the new brand of French composite specialist Dedienne Multiplasturgy). DEMGY was the only company present at JEC World 2024 offering a composite AM part production service leveraging advanced PBF technology provided by EOS, along with the HP-23 PEKK composite materials from Arkema.

While other composite PBF materials and service leaders such as CRP Technology were absent from this year’s show, and others like Hexcel continue to see the HexAM business for PEKK composite 3D printed parts as a negligible opportunity, DEMGY reported high growth of its composite part production business. The company is also working on the 9T Labs’ systems for higher throughput production using continuous fiber composites. As all the filament extrusion composite hardware companies are still not attending, the potential for JEC World to grow, and composite AM to grow within it, remains very significant.

The greatest composites show on Earth is embracing AM: at JEC World 2024 AM and composites continue to display powerful synergies
Composite CFR PEKK parts, 3D printed by SLS, from DEMGY

Another small yet significant project involving technologies other than LFAM saw Arkema show parts made with a standard Flashforge 3D printer and filaments made from recycled Elium materials, compounded with glass fiber reinforcements and ABS for printability. Elium are versatile thermoplastic resins from Arkema that have comparable performances to traditional resins, while also allowing the products and systems that use it to be recycled. The idea here is to show Arkema’s Elium customers the potential for circular manufacturing using Elium products.

Other unique applications using thermoset resin materials included Massivit presenting the newest composite epoxy-based materials that can be printed using its large 10000-G platform from the newly signed partnership with Sika. This is the only AM technology on the market today that can work with composite epoxy thermosets and does so by “pouring” the past materials into a photopolymeric 3D printed mold. This deal includes the SikaBiresin CIM 120, an aluminum-filled epoxy that can be used to print high-speed tooling for applications requiring elevated temperatures.

The quest for AM of continuous composites

Much of AM’s future growth potential in composite manufacturing revolves around technologies for continuous fiber-reinforced composite additive manufacturing. Most of these are still far from full commercialization, or from fully realizing their potential, or from providing parts that can truly compete with conventionally manufactured woven composites. But they are continuously evolving and more companies – along with research institutions – are getting involved.

The greatest composites show on Earth is embracing AM: at JEC World 2024 AM and composites continue to display powerful synergies
The continuous fiber 3D printed scoliosis brace from TNO’s Brightlands Materials Center.

Speaking with TNO Brightlands Richard Janssen, of the Brightlands Materials Center showed us the ongoing research that the company is conducting on continuous fiber filament extrusion 3D printing using the leading “desktop systems” available on the market, from Markforged, Anisoprint and APS. He also showed a sensing prototype of a scoliosis brace developed in the OPZuid Bright Smart Scoliosis Brace project.

Scoliosis is a genetic disease that typically affects children and causes a 3D curvature of the spine. Treatment consists of wearing braces for years to correct the spine over time. Comfort and wearability are important factors for success to make sure children actually wear the braces. “For composite engineers – he explained – this translates into lightweighting and digital design, two of the strong points of continuous fiber additive manufacturing. In collaboration with the Turkish startup company Fited, the TNO team developed a prototype brace that was on display at JEC World 2024. Janssen also explained that continuous fiber 3D printing offers possibilities that cannot be achieved in any other composite manufacturing process so, as technology companies figure out more efficient and cost-effective ways to add Z-axis strength, these additive processes will eventually – and inevitably – see commercial adoption.

Some ways to produce continuous fiber composite parts already exist. US companies Electroimpact and Ingersoll, and French company Coriolis Composites have developed multi-axis robotic systems that can make unique continuous fiber composite parts. While Electroimpact and Ingersoll are having a hard time developing their machines into cost-effective commercial products, Coriolis may have an advantage as the Coriolis CPico system presented at JEC 2024 is a modified version of the company’s well-established AFP machines, and can produce parts using both copped fiber (filament and pellets) and continuous fiber reinforced materials.

While some companies such as Continuous Composites and even Siemens, which have invested significantly in developing continuous fiber robotic 3D printing capabilities, did not attend this year, other news show that continuous fiber 3D printing is back on the uptrend. Most evidently, the polymer AM market leader Stratasys acquired the technology portfolio from Arevo after the two companies had battled it out in the early days of composite 3D printing with neither succeeding in establishing a solid position on the market. Now they have joined forces. It could mark the beginning of a new era for composites AM.

Photogallery from JEC World 2024

Research
Composites AM 2024

746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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