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Competition: Bridging the Gap With Additive Manufacturing

In 2021, Markforged collaborated with Advantage 3D Solutions to put together a three-round elimination competition for additive manufacturing design. 45 manufacturing teams competed to design the strongest parts in response to a new challenge each round, with five making it to the final round.

With the ability to reinforce parts with continuous fibers such as carbon fiber, Kevlar, fiberglass, and HSHT (high-strength high-temperature) fiberglass, Markforged professional 3D printers are engineered to produce extremely high-strength and lightweight parts. Using constraints to part costs in each round, this competition challenged competitors to get creative with their strategies for reinforcing their parts with continuous fiber — they could either opt for a higher volume of a less expensive fiber such as Fiberglass, or use a smaller quantity of stronger carbon fibers.

So, how did the additive manufacturing design competition go? Read this blog for a recap — learn how the competition worked, how the top five teams implemented various fiber reinforcement strategies to make their parts stronger in the final round, and which team won and took home a brand new Markforged professional 3D printer.

Additive Manufacturing Competition Information

In each round, a unique challenge was presented. The participating teams then competed to produce the strongest possible part to address the specific challenge by designing a part using CAD and using Eiger cloud-based 3D printer software to implement a continuous fiber reinforcement strategy. Teams submitted their parts by saving them as digital inventory in Advantage 3D’s Eiger Fleet account.

Advantage 3D Solutions then printed out each part on their professional 3D printers, and tested to failure to determine which was the strongest part. What was at stake in this competition? The winning manufacturing team’s prize was a Markforged professional 3D printer: a brand new Onyx One.

Challenge 1: Mounting Bracket. Professional 3D printers are often used to print brackets, a backbone of modern engineering — brackets are used to improve stiffness of assemblies, add modularity to designs, and mount critical hardware like sensors and actuators. The first challenge included two main limitations. For one, the part could only use the base material Onyx (no continuous fiber reinforcement). The part material cost also must not have exceeded $25.00.

Out of the 45 teams that participated in this round, the teams with the top 25 parts moved on to the second round.

Challenge 2: Mounting Bracket with Continuous Fiber. In the second round of the professional 3D printing competition, the top 25 teams from the previous round were tasked with designing another mounting bracket — however, teams could use continuous fiber reinforcement (CFR) technology to strengthen their part this time.

Reinforcing parts with continuous fibers on professional 3D printers adds additional costs. For this round, the material cost cutoff for each part was raised to $35.00. Having a material cost cutoff for this round encouraged the manufacturing teams to get creative and resourceful with how they decided to implement continuous fiber reinforcement — which fiber to use (carbon fiber, fiberglass, Kevlar, high-strength high-temperature fiberglass) and which continuous fiber strategy to utilize.

Out of the 25 teams that competed in this round, only the top five moved on to the third and final round of the additive manufacturing design competition.

Challenge 3: Bridging the Gap. Five remaining teams were tasked to design the strongest bridge that can be built with a Markforged professional 3D printer. Each bridge was to span over a 16-inch gap between a set of forklift forks, with all continuous fiber materials available and a part material cost limit of $175.00. In this challenge, three parts must fit on the Markforged X7 professional 3D printer’s build plate simultaneously.

Round 3 Results:

So, what did the top five teams produce, and what were the results?

First Up: SSC

The first team SSC’s bridge was a two part assembly made from Onyx, using Fiberglass as the reinforcing fiber. SSC chose to utilize concentric fiber around the outside of the part. And they chose 70 layers of concentric fiber — for each of the two components of their bridge assembly. After Advantage 3D used a professional 3D printer to fabricate the parts and test the assembled bridge, the breaking point for SSC’s bridge was found at 95.0kg.

SSC chose to utilize concentric fiber around the outside of the part. And they chose 70 layers of concentric fiber — for each of the two components of their bridge assembly.

Concentric fiber reinforcement shown in purple.

Mac Valves

The second team to be tested in the final round of the additive manufacturing design challenge was Mac Valves. This team designed their bridge in a three-part assembly. Each component of this assembly was made with Onyx and reinforced with Fiberglass as the reinforcing fiber.

Mac Valves reinforced each arm for the bridge with isotropic fiber — what that means is that the part includes one or more full layers of criss-cross continuous fibers. For each arm, Mac Valves opted to include three layers of isotropic fiber reinforcement. After Advantage 3D fabricated the individual components on their professional 3D printer and assembled them, Mac Valves’s bridge was put to the test. The result? This 3D printed bridge made it to 112.5kg until break.

Part view showing three isotropic fiber layers.
Internal view in Eiger showing reinforcement strategy of the bridge’s middle component. Isotropic fiber is placed on the top and bottom of the part.

Black Dog Form

The third team to go in the additive manufacturing design challenge was Black Dog Form. Three components printed from the professional 3D printer comprised this bridge — two arms and a link component made from Onyx and reinforced with Fiberglass. For their reinforcement strategy, Black Dog Form utilized concentric fiber in a stripe pattern.

The result of the fail test? 272.5kg.

Internal part view of an arm component in Eiger showing continuous fiber layers in yellow.
Internal part view of the link component in Eiger showing concentric fiber layers in yellow.

Xtrac Engineering

Xtrac Engineering is the fourth team up in the additive manufacturing design challenge. Unlike the previous three teams tested in the final round, Xtrac utilized a different fiber reinforcement strategy, opting to use smaller quantities of the more expensive carbon fiber to reinforce their Onyx parts.

Xtrac’s bridge consists of two arms and a connecting clip. On the outside, Xtrac designed each of their bridge arms to have concentric carbon fiber reinforcement in all walls; in the middle of the part, it is reinforced with carbon fibers on the inner holes only. The connecting clip is reinforced with isotropic carbon fibers.

After Advantage 3D fabricated the components with their Markforged professional 3D printer, assembled the bridge and put it through the test, the result was a whopping 901.0kg until fail!

On the outside, Xtrac designed each of their bridge arms to have concentric carbon fiber reinforcement in all walls.
Internal Eiger view showing concentric carbon fiber reinforcement in the inner holes only.
Internal Eiger view showing Isotropic carbon fiber reinforcement.

Final Results and Conclusion

Unfortunately the fifth competing team in the final round of our additive manufacturing design competition, Skylark, was unable to finish their bridge. As a result, Skylark finished in 5th place by default.

  1. Xtrac Engineering — 901.0kg
  2. Black Dog Form — 272.5kg
  3. Mac Valves — 112.5kg
  4. SSC — 95.0kg
  5. Skylark — unfinished

In conclusion, our additive manufacturing design competition taught us that utilizing continuous fiber reinforcement (CFR) with a strong fiber — such as carbon fiber — doesn’t just produce outstandingly strong parts. With creativity and the right reinforcement strategy, manufacturers can reap this benefit without incurring additional costs beyond what they would pay for more inexpensive fiber materials per volume, such as fiberglass.

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