Development and Processing of Continuous Flax and Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Thermoplastic Composites by a Modified Material Extrusion Process
Additive manufacturing, especially material extrusion (MEX), has received a lot of attention recently. The reasons for this are the numerous advantages compared to conventional manufacturing processes, which result in various new possibilities for product development and -design. By applying material layer by layer, parts with complex, load-path optimized geometries can be manufactured at neutral costs. To expand the application fields of MEX, high-strength and simultaneously lightweight materials are required which fulfill the requirements of highly resilient technical parts. For instance, the embedding of continuous carbon and flax fibers in a polymer matrix offers great potential for this. To achieve the highest possible variability with regard to the material combinations while ensuring simple and economical production, the fiber-matrix bonding should be carried out in one process step together with the actual parts manufacture. This paper deals with the adaptation and improvement of the 3D printer on the one hand and the characterization of 3D printed test specimens based on carbon and flax fibers on the other hand. For this purpose, the print head development for in-situ processing of contin uous fiber-reinforced parts with improved mechanical properties is described. It was determined that compared to neat polylactic acid (PLA), the continuous fiber-reinforced test specimens achieve up to 430% higher tensile strength and 890% higher tensile modulus for the carbon fiber reinforcement and an increase of up to 325% in tensile strength and 570% in tensile modulus for the flax fibers. Similar improvements in performance were achieved in the bending tests.