Five companies have been named winners of the Formnext Start-up Challenge 2023 in September.
They were a group of people who had a commonality. Endless IndustriesA German company founded in the Technical University of Berlin It will also bring to market a printhead-nozzle technology that deposits fibre-reinforced parts 3D printed.
You can also read about the advantages of using Formnext approached, we caught up with Endless Industries’ Dr. Mathias Czasny [MC] and Stephan Körber [SK] Learn more about the technology that underpins its hardware products and the proprietary software developed in support of it. Also, what impact does the company hope to have on additive manufacturing?
I understand Endless Industries brings to market printhead and nozzle technologies rather than selling and building machines. What is the technology behind this printhead and nozzle?
You have limits with FDM parts. Limit is the material. Our technology allows you to upgrade FDM plastic 3D printing and get parts as strong as aluminium and as light as plastic, while being 80% less expensive than milled aluminum. Our current focus is on robot grippers and prototyping. We have three products for this. We have our patented printing heads that are basically there to cut continuous fibre in your carbon fiber materials. You have the fibre material. We have carbon fibre now. But we also offer glass fibre and natural fibres in different polymers. That’s our main expertise in materials. You always need three components to make the equation work. You will also need software to tell the printer how to use the normal polymers and carbon fibres.
What are the requirements for the temperature and durability of the nozzle to allow it to process fibre reinforced polymers?
The lever, which is very important, is inside the printhead. It is the cylinder, which is responsible for the cutting mechanism. If you pull the handle, it will close the two holes in the printhead and cut the fibre. We are currently fitting a tube of PTFE inside the printhead to guide fibre materials. This is what the process temperature is right now. We provide PETG, PA12, PA11 and PP as a result. The first will be PETG as it is very simple. However, we have other products in the pipeline that we are evaluating right now.
The cutting mechanism should be in the hot area. We are only cutting the fibre material as the polymer is already molten and we push it away. This allows us to print thicker carbon fiber rovings. We are currently limited to a temperature of 250 degrees. However, we have already begun working on the next generation printhead, which will enable us to print even at higher temperatures. After all, we’d like to print PEEK at the end of the day, and there are many other interesting materials that lie between PETG and PEEK such as polyamide six and polycarbonate. These are the goals we will be focusing on in the coming year.
The point where fibres are cut is usually higher in a nozzle. What was the biggest challenge in cutting the fibre in a nozzle at a low point up to now?
MC: This is because the composite filaments are much smaller in diameter than a standard 1.75mm. It has a size of 0.35mm-0.4mm. It’s easy to cut the filaments with a knife because the material is fragile. If you run it through a section that has two holes in it, then you can cut it with a knife, as the forces involved aren’t very high. For processing, it is important to do the first few steps at room temperature. Of course, those who use these technologies have patented them. Our way, during the scientific part, was to investigate what’s not patented. What is the whitespace within the IP area? And what we could patent ourselves. We did IP research and investigations to see what was going on. We then figured out that there was an open area in this hot zone, and then the second topic of course was what benefits we could create from this?
This was a great benefit. Because, during our first project, the prosthetic part was huge. If you have to wait for three days to get the part, then it is the wrong technology. You need to upgrade it. With the thicker fiber material, for instance, you could print it overnight. The benefit to the customer is that it’s very quick. For example, he gets his parts very quickly. So, we combined both directions, one, the IP Strategy, the Open Space, what we could patent or what was new? It was a combination of both directions, the IP strategy and the open space, what we can patent or what is new?
Could you also explain the capabilities of your fibre placement software?
SK: We knew from the beginning we would need a special piece of software. We didn’t see the point in developing our own slicer. We wanted to work with partners who had different solutions. Some, like Prusa slicer, others, like Simplifier. It was very important to us that the fibre placing module (that’s what we called it) is compatible with many slicers. This means it must be slicer independent. We developed software that does this. We have a small software module at the start of the process, and then use different slicers for the middle. Then we have the post-processing step. We have separate programs at the moment but are working on a system that will allow us to combine everything into one program. The customer can then choose the type of slicer module.
It can currently do two things. If you are not familiar with fibre composites and want a stiffer part but don’t care about the details, then you can choose the “one click” solution. You can simply push a button or change some parameters to get the software to give you a solution. You can have a stiffer part. Then you put in your geometry, get the geometry, and the slicing will do the rest. With our process, however, you must manually place the fibres. There’s one big group of people who want to be able to fine-tune the placement of fibres. They are the ones that know how to use fibre materials and composites. We are a company that stands out from the rest because we offer a fine control over where to place the fibres in a part. With the competition you only get what you pay for. You may be able to change some things, but it is not always possible to get fine control. We are working with our customers to find a solution which allows them to tell the slicer exactly where the fibres should be placed. This is a big thing that they can do. You can choose the one-click option, or you can take full control of the system if that’s what you prefer.
What can you tell me about the Materials Development Roadmap?
MC: We use a protrusion procedure. Right now, the process is in a lab-scale, as we are experimenting with different material combinations and parameters from the raw fibre and raw polymer. We are currently producing hundreds of grams per day but are working to scale up the production so that one line can produce up to a tonne a year. We will then be able, in future years, to scale them up by using different machines that we will specify for different material groups. We need feedback from the market to determine the best material combinations and how we can define the upscaling processes.
It’s very, simple. This process is very, very easy. You do not need to concentrate on moisture or on the different types of material. Second material, as many people ask us, is polyamide 6 plus carbon fibre. This is also a great material. With the polyamide six, you need to be aware of the moisture content in the matrix. If you do not pay attention to it, the material will become foamy and contain air bubbles, making it difficult for the carbon fibres to bond. You get the weak composite. It is important to understand this. It’s not necessary for all applications. This is why we’re focusing on the materials that we need.
What impact do you expect this technology to have on the market, and why?
SC: Our goal is to complement what’s on the market. Markforged does a great job. There are many people who are frustrated by the situation. They want to enter the market and they see potential. For some reason the Markforged solution, or other smaller solutions don’t work for these people. So. What we can see is that the demand for large parts is high. This is also where fibres can be really, really useful. You can make a lot more sense if you give the fibres more length and more space. We can see that the market is lacking in large 3D printers of industrial size and affordability. We see there is so much potential if, without democratising, we don’t like to use big words but give everyone a chance, and a seat at the table. This is a major obstacle to the carbon fibre 3D-printing market. This is like the limitations of materials, what machines you can use, and of course the price.
We want to share this cost advantage with customers. The thinner the fibre is, the more it costs. We’ll also be able to offer a lower cost, which we can share with customers. I believe there are many applications where fibres would make sense, but the material, price or machine can hinder them.