Over the past 5 years, carbon fiber filament 3D printing materials have become some of the most popular filaments on the market, often boasting mechanical properties that rival those of some metals, with costs and total printed part mass coming in much lower than a metal part.
Whenever one of these new materials hits the market, everybody gets excited about the potential for what you can do with it, but rarely do people think about “how easy is it to use”, and “what kind of post-processing do I need to do to it after the printer finishes making the part?”
These questions are critical, since the answers are often “they aren’t easy to use”, and “you’ll have to do a ton of work to break the supports off manually since they’re made of the model material, and you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time sanding underside surfaces of the parts because they’ll be rough.” With Stratasys FDM 3D printers, it’s the exact opposite, as all of our carbon filled materials use Soluble Supports that leave a smooth surface finish on the underside of the parts, and support removal is “toss it in the tank to dissolve”; as easy as can be!
Recently, though, we’ve gained another new option that gives you, the user of the printer, the ultimate choice, as Nylon CF10 can now be printed with our QSR Soluble Support OR our independent breakaway support material Sup4000b!
Carbon Fiber Filament Overview
Many 3D printer manufacturers, including Stratasys, have listened to what users of the technology need, and after base offerings of carbon fiber filaments were released, additional options on a variety of other systems have become available as well. In the Stratasys family of FDM Printers, our first offering was Nylon 12 CF, which is a 35% (by weight) chopped carbon fiber filled filament that has this carbon content spread evenly throughout all areas of the part, which at first was only available on the Fortus 450mc, but later made its way to the F900 as well.
Since then, we’ve gained the 10% chopped carbon fiber filled ABS material on the F-series of printers (F170 through F370CR), and our newest filament in the Nylon CF10 Material (F190CR and F370CR only). All of those materials came printable on day one with a soluble support material, all of which leave a beautiful underside surface finish on your part, and removal is easy since you just let the supports dissolve off on the wash tank. For Nylon 12 CF on the Fortus 450 and F900, this material is called SR-110, and for ABS-CF10 and Nylon-CF10 this is QSR Support.
While soluble supports are great because they enable the printing of incredibly complex geometries, some users print simple geometries that would only have supports on the base of the part (forming a raft that separates it from the tray), and while for ABS-CF10 that does allow for the model to pop off of the supports easily, Nylon’s typically stick to their supports quite well and require wash tank time no matter how simple the geometry is. Seeing that this is a problem for some customers, who would rather have the experience of popping flat parts off of the supports by hand quickly (10-30 seconds) instead of waiting a few hours for those supports to dissolve, Stratasys identified the issue and solved the problem!
Why use soluble and breakaway supports for carbon fiber filaments?
How did they do this? It all starts with a material called Diran. Diran is a “Delrin-like” Diran material on the F370 and F370CR (Diran is a Nylon blend as well), and given it’s chemical resistance and low friction coefficient, a special supporting filament needed to be developed for this material to stick to; this is where SUP4000b was born. Given the relatively similar chemistry of two Nylon-based filaments, Stratasys spent quite a bit of time in R&D testing the use of this material with Nylon CF10, dialing in the printing parameters, and determining how to best extrude the SUP4000b so that it will adhere to the Nylon CF10 but also release when post-processing. It’s a fine line to dance, but Stratasys absolutely nailed it, and Sup4000b works PERFECTLY with Nylon CF10!
Which one is the best?
Since there are now two options for supporting Nylon CF10 parts, the natural question that comes to mind is “which one should I use from now on?” Well, both run great when combined with the material, so there isn’t an easy answer to that question…
…But for those who find themselves in this predicament, I’ve devised a great tray of test parts that highlight when to use QSR, when to use SUP4000b, and when both are OK!
We’ll start off easy; this large bracket ONLY has supports on the underside of the part. While we can absolutely print this in QSR and dissolve the supports off, we can save ourselves an hour or two of dissolve time by printing this component using the SUP4000b support. In doing so, this part pops off of its support by hand (no tools required!) in less than 15 seconds.
Here is a short video for proof!
Our next part is what I’m calling the “Villain’s Mustache Bracket” (for obvious reasons); this bracket has most of its complexity along the base of the part, with the exception of some wording that is extruded into the sidewall of the part, and a single deep/thin slot in the side of the part. If the slot was removed, this part would be absolutely fine to use Sup4000b with, and if the slot can be modified to be larger, that isn’t a problem either. With that said, while the SUP4000b is easy to remove everywhere else, even from the letters on the sidewall, it will be fairly difficult to remove from this sidewall slot, and would likely need to be drilled out to remove successfully. Personally, I would choose QSR for this part, but it’s very close to being printable with both, and very minor modifications of the design could make it a perfect fit!
The final part that I’ve printed in both supports is what I’m calling the “Hex Turtle Shell”, of which we have a version that is designed to be twisted, and another one with a lever arm to be pushed in. This geometry is incredibly complex, and any printer that lacks soluble supports will be incapable of making this part as designed, since there is a cavity underneath the hex shell, and the curvature is far too shallow to print with no supports without completely falling apart. In this scenario, Sup4000b is a bad fit, but luckily having the ability to just flip the printer over to QSR will give you the ultimate design freedom, and a quick one hour dip into the wash tank dissolves these supports out beautifully!
In my mind, it’s this kind of flexibility in capabilities, along with the consistency of part quality and accuracy for all parts on the tray and from build to build that sets Stratasys 3D Printers miles above the rest. If you need to have carbon fiber fill throughout the entire part, even in thin-walled regions, you have plenty of options available in Nylon 12 CF, ABS CF10, and Nylon CF10. In our newest filament, Nylon CF10, you now gain further flexibility in the choice to go with soluble or breakaway supports, and that choice is an incredibly powerful tool to have at your disposal, rather than the significant limitations posed by most 3D printers on the market printing carbon fiber filled 3D printing materials.
I hope this has been informative, and if you would like to learn more about our F190CR and F370CR printers to run these materials, please reach out to our team for more information!