Carbon fiber is ridiculously strong, ridiculously light, and ridiculously expensive. That’s because really the only way to make anything with the stuff is to use a CNC mill and do it by hand. But now there’s a 3D printer that can handle it, the MarkForged Mark One, and that’s possibly a big step forward for tech.
The MarkForged Mark One is a surprisingly elegant device for a prototype, and cheap, as well, for a 3D printer: Its market price is estimated to be $5,000 or so. True, that’s not “Oh, I’ll grab one at Best Buy along with a TV” price, but it is a price that makes it viable for desktop manufacturing.
It also can print in nylon, fiberglass, PLA, and, most importantly, carbon fiber. In a stroke, it’s just introduced made some different materials very cheap to use.
Made From Plastic
Most 3D printers you can buy work in ABS plastic, which is great if you want to make a spatula, but it’s not really going to replace most of what you buy any time soon. There are 3D printers capable of building items out of metal, but those are largely the province of Boeing and General Electric.
The lack of sturdy materials has largely kept “desktop manufacturing” a theoretical enterprise and an expensive, nerdy hobby. There’s no lack of interesting ideas and applications in 3D printing, but it was waiting for a more practical material to come along. Now it has several. But why should you care?
Essentially, if there’s anything in your life that needs a high strength-to-weight ratio, from car parts to computer parts, it’s about to get lighter, more durable, cheaper, and it will last longer. Need a new phone case? Run one off in a tough material. Need to repair a strap on your backpack? Run it off in nylon.
More to the point, this will allow for desktop and boutique manufacturers to create durable products of genuine use. Printing car parts used to largely be the domain of incredibly rich people. This time next year, your local AutoZone will probably be running off better parts for your car than you can get from the original manufacturer. Using composite materials really means it’s limited by creativity, not engineering.
The Mark One is still a prototype, and it won’t be sold to the public until later this year. And it’s true not everything can be in carbon fiber. But this is a major step forward for 3D printing, and one that’s going to pay off in ways we may not expect.