Combining Carbon Fiber and Additive Manufacturing

by | May 31, 2018

RapidFit introduces a modular system based on 3D Printing for faster time-to-market and lasting cost reductions in automobile development.

The industrial use and series production of carbon fiber brought an huge impact on the automotive industry some years ago. The same is currently happening with additive manufactoring. Now, RapidFit, a tool manufacturer and subsidiary of the 3D printing specialist Materialise, is launching a new innovation in its tried-and-tested modular system for automotive tooling. The combination of carbon fiber beams and individual 3D-printed elements makes it possible to produce jigs and inspection fixtures that are up to 90 % lighter than conventionally produced tools, as the Belgium company told. The mounted forms and mounting points as well as the frame connectors are produced using Additive Manufacturing. The combination of 3D-printed parts and carbon fiber beams leads to a high-strength, low-weight result.

Detail view of the 3D-printed connectors and carbon fiber beams. Source: Materialise

The decreased weight makes it possible for a single person to operate and move the fixtures without using heavy equipment. That means they can be used more easily and quickly. The new carbon fiber fixtures fulfill all current standards regarding functionality, precision, stability, and stiffness. The use of carbon fiber beams minimizes thermal expansion. That means the attachments are suitable for different applications in measuring rooms, the production environment, and climatic chambers.

The RapidFit system potentially changes the development and production process for automotive tools and makes it possible to bring new automotive models on the market faster. High-precision, dimensionally stable jigs can be realized and changed quickly and easily, which reduces processing time for new design iterations and upgrades. In addition, the option of using Additive Manufacturing wherever necessary makes it possible to develop solutions for very complex forms and integrated functionalities. Snap fits and clips that can be detached again increase repeatability and improve the representation of the part environment. The utilization of standardized parts that can be used again saves costs in the long run.

To construct a jig, RapidFit uses CAD data and an in-house developed parametric library of standardized solutions. This parametric library allows engineers to efficiently customize a design starting from the closest applicable template. The parts of the system that need to be 3D-printed are then produced at Materialise’s state-of-the-art Certified Additive Manufacturing facility. After the parts are mounted onto the framework, they are calibrated with a high-end coordinate measuring machine (CMM), in RapidFit’s measurement lab.

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