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Continuous Fiber Composite Additive Manufacturing

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Northrop Grumman Corporation (NGC) in conjunction with an industry partner (Electroimpact Inc.) has developed a true 3D continuous fiber additive manufacturing (AM) capability that meets current key aerospace-grade composite structural requirements. Most 3D printing processes can accurately be described as “2.5D” printing, because material is typically deposited successively in flat slices that, when stacked together, create a 3D object. This true 3D printing system utilizes robotics and a seven-axis deposition system to precisely place material in all X, Y and Z directions. The continuous carbon fiber material when placed along load paths creates a structurally optimized ply architecture. The fabrication cell reduces tooling costs and lead times, reduces raw material consumption through improved buy-to-fly and leverages robotics to greatly reduce composite manufacturing learning curves.

The robot mounted end effector combines two manufacturing technologies, Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) and Automated Fiber Placement (AFP). The system currently utilizes high performance Continuous Carbon Fiber (CCF) material for the AFP module and Discontinuous Carbon Fiber (DCF) for the FFF module. Additionally, the end effector is equipped with a second FFF module that prints tooling in-situ. The material used for the tooling is soluble and thus can be washed away when the part comes off the build plate.

Approved for public release; NG21-2464. © 2022 Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation 

Learning Objectives:

  • Understand composite structures can be additively manufactured
  • Understand new design freedoms exist for composite structures with SCRAM (Scalable Composite Robotic Manufacturing)
  • Analyze their own business needs for potential incorporation/purchase of a SCRAM cell (from Electroimpact)
  • David Ivankovich
    Sr. Principal Engineer - Manufacturing Technologies
    Northrop Grumman Corporation