Markforged Launches New Flame Retardant Materials
Being successfully known worldwide for their composite-based additive manufacturing solutions, Markforged has been providing several manufacturers with the means to print end-use parts in many industrial applications for seven years now. Among the many benefits you can get from their …
Being successfully known worldwide for their composite-based additive manufacturing solutions, Markforged has been providing several manufacturers with the means to print end-use parts in many industrial applications for seven years now. Among the many benefits you can get from their unique approach regarding production is their cost-effective way of making parts with optimum strength to weight ratios and great surface finishes, all throughout systems, like the Digital Forge platform and Blacksmith, that enable repeatability, quality and shorter lead-times confidently.
Of course, this is something where industries like aerospace and automotive can significantly benefit for several reasons we’ll be reviewing in this article. However, this is not as simple as it sounds; the challenge here is the strict quality standards these industries must follow. Among the most challenging for additive manufacturing is, without a doubt, the flame retardant requirements materials must meet. Now, considering that nylon, a material that tends to be highly flammable, is the core of Markforged composites, don’t we have a big problem here? Well, of course, Markforged has been well aware and working to find solutions for some time. Now, finally, we’re getting payoffs! Markforged launched this week a pair of new flame retardant materials: Onyx FR-A and Carbon Fibre FR-A.
Markforged’s FR-A Materials
On what differs from standard Onyx? Onyx, Markforged’s material, is, in essence, nylon filled with micron-sized chopped carbon fibre strands. This material was designed as a versatile matrix for Markforged’s continuous fibre reinforcements. On the other hand, Onyx FR-A is a variation of standard Onyx designed for fire resistance applications. According to UL 94 test results, Onyx FR-A would be considered V-0 at thicknesses equal to or greater than 3mm. And what does V-0 even mean? Well, basically, it is self-extinguishing when burned vertically, just as you can see in the video below.
As a flame retardant material, Onyx is ideal for the following uses:
- Weld Fixturing
- Aerospace Clips & Brackets
- Laser Marking Fixtures
- Energy/Electrical Brackets & Fixtures
Onyx FR-A is not the first Onyx variation, though. The first variation of Onyx FR was released two years ago and, recently, Markforged released Onyx ESD, which is designed to meet electrostatic discharge safety requirements. With that in mind, what other variants can we expect in the future? Hopefully, Markforged will impress us with new application-driven releases soon.
Carbon Fibre FR-A
When you reinforce Onyx FR-A with continuous Carbon Fibre CFF, you can get intricate lightweight parts as strong as Aluminium 6061-T6. However, carbon fibre is quite flammable too. So, Markforged released the other FR-A variant: Carbon Fibre FR-A
Carbon Fibre FR-A is ideal for the following applications:
- Cabin Components
- Brackets & Mounts
- MRO & Spare Parts
- End-Use Parts
- Functional Prototypes
Currently, Carbon Fibre FR-A is only available on the Mark X7.
To go deeper into specs, I got you here the official datasheet.
New Opportunities for the Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry is one of the earliest adopters of additive manufacturing. Today, roughly 16% of 3D printing comes from this sector. So, why this decades-long interest? You may ask. The simple answer is the potential that additive manufacturing has to reduce costs. And, why is that? As I wrote last year in another article, additive manufacturing offers much more flexibility and efficiency than traditional manufacturing in design, prototyping, tooling, production, and customisation. You can say AM production cycles are slower than other traditional processes. Still, aerospace generally works with low-volume fabrication, so this isn’t really a limitation for AM adoption like it would happen in, let’s say, the consumer goods sector.
The other interest of the aerospace industry is to reduce weight and, therefore, fuel consumption costs and emissions. The ideal solution to this point towards gradually supplanting metal parts with composite materials that offer optimal ratios of weight and strength. So, combining 3D printing and composite materials benefits for end-use parts production seems to be a logical outcome for aerospace development, and Markforged is confident about this. Recently, Markforged CEO Shai Terem stated:
“Markforged believes in a future that is more than metal. We have long supported the aerospace industry and have parts in-flight today. A multi-decade trend is underway to transition parts from metals to advanced composites, which are lighter and offer greater efficiencies”.
Is Markforged currently working with any aerospace company? Yes, they do, for many years now. Many entities like Lufthansa, Airbus and NASA benefit from this unique technology. But, perhaps the best example is Cabin Management Solutions (CMS), which is partnering with Markforged to bring end-use parts to market. This company designs and manufactures cabin management and in-flight entertainment systems for business and private aircraft. They have already developed over 100 end-use parts ready to install. This is what Jeff Pike, the VP of Engineering at CMS, has to say about the benefits they find in Markforged products:
“In aerospace, it’s important to have quality parts we can adapt on the fly to make any changes the customer requests. Using Markforged printers and materials offers us ways to create low-volume, high-value luxury cabin parts faster and at the point of need. This results in lower costs and accelerated lead times, and with material traceability in place, it will enable us to move even faster in our development process and free up resources to focus elsewhere.”
Towards Traceability: The NCAMP Process
What does Mr Pike mean by traceability? ISO9000 defines traceability as the ability to trace the history, application, use and location of an item or its characteristics through recorded identification data. But how does it apply to the subject of this article, Markforged’s new FR-A materials? According to Markforged:
“Onyx FR-A and Carbon Fiber FR-A are purpose-built for the requirements of the aerospace, transportation and automotive industries. FR-A materials establish lot-level material traceability and pass the test suite necessary for qualification under 14 CFR 25.853 for most 3D-printable parts. Onyx FR-A and Carbon Fiber FR-A as printed on the Markforged X7 are undergoing qualification through the NCAMP process.”
And, what is the 14 CFR 25.853? The regulatory code regarding fire safety for compartment interiors, issued by the FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration). You can see it in more detail here at this link. Aerospace manufacturers must comply with these regulations, and materials must undergo Flame, Smoke and Toxicity (FST) qualification tests by the NCAMP (National Center of Advanced Materials Performance). NCAMP works with the FAA, academia and industry partners to qualify material systems and fill a shared materials database with public access. From here, manufacturers can trace material info from the database history to prove equivalency and gain FAA certification with ease.
“Our deliberate move to support innovation in aerospace mitigates risk for these manufacturers and helps get additive parts in the air faster by simplifying the part certification process,” said CEO Shai Terem in regards to traceability.
So, now, what do you do if you must comply with European regulations? Don’t worry; the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also accepts specifications and design values developed with the NCAMP process!
Markforged has been collaborating with NCAMP since 2020, and the program is currently in the printing and testing phases. Both Markforged and NCAMP anticipate full qualification by 2023. The process is long and arduous. Actually, the only material approved with NCAMP so far is Stratasys’ ULTEM 9085. However, upon completion, Markforged is expected to have the first continuous fibre-reinforced AM system qualified for flight.
Recently, I released this article on why we’re in a crucial moment for additive manufacturing. The threshold between rapid prototyping and end-use production is finally being crossed, and now the big challenge is to get proper standards and certification frameworks. Now, with the latest Markforged releases, it pleases me to witness and share with you how this development goes. Without a doubt, this victory for Markforged goes beyond just Markforged; this victory is for additive manufacturing as a whole.
If you want to read our latest updates, here they are: