Below is our recent interview with Martin Eichenhofer, Co-Founder of 9T Labs:
Q: Could you provide our readers with a brief introduction to 9T Labs?
A: 9T Labs was founded in February 2018 by Chester Houwink, Giovanni Cavolina and myself as a spin-off from the CMASLab chair of Prof. Ermanni at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Our mission is to make industry grade carbon fiber composites more accessible through 3D printing. In this context, 3D printing is bringing automation and advanced optimization capabilities to a $80b industry, completely rethinking the way fiber composites are made to date.
Q: What is carbon fiber composite and why is it so promising?
A: Essentially carbon fiber composites are a superior material in terms of weight and mechanical performance compared to its metal counterparts. Just imagine a material which is as light weight as plastic but as strong, or even stronger, than metal. This kind of performance is in particular important for all industries where physical things are moving. For example in aerospace, robotics and automotive, a causal correlation between structural mass and energy consumption exists. Imagine, if you can save only 1kg structural mass of an airplane, you will save about 10’000kg in Kerosene as well as 30’000kg of CO2 in operation of the airplane.
Q: Why are carbon fiber composites not used in all applications to substitute metal?
A: In addition to superior mechanical performance, commercial products also need to have good economics. A remaining constraint for the wide spread adoption of carbon fiber composites are the high costs and long lead times in manufacturing. At 9T Labs we radically change the way fiber composites are made. Using 3D printing technology, we provide fully integrated and automated workflows at minimal capital expenditure. The outcome is twofold, superior lighter parts and significantly lower costs, making carbon fiber composites a viable contender for metal substitution beyond just aerospace applications.
Q: Tell us something more about your technology. How does the process work?
A: In short, we are automating the traditionally manual manufacturing process, and by doing so, we provide a much higher degree of freedom to utilize the full capability of the fiber directionality. Traditionally this is not possible, because the manufacturing requires a huge compromise between ideal fiber design and manufacturing costs. 9T Labs lifts this constraint, providing manufacturing complexity and software algorithms to optimize parts, resulting in extremely light weight parts. Commonly the structural weight can be reduced by more than 50%, saving cost and resources.
Q: What are the composite manufacturing trends for 2019?
A: The global fiber composite industry is growing at a healthy 5% CAGR towards a $100b market in 2020. Within the industry, the strongest growth at 11% CAGR is seen in the field of carbon fiber reinforced composites. At the moment the biggest trends are automation, thermoplastic composites and recyclability. Whereof, the use of thermoplastic composites enables recyclability in addition to superior mechanical performance. 9T Labs’ technology is answering to all three trends, using the merits of 3D printing and thermoplastic composites.
Q: What is key for 9T Labs to succeed?
A: The key ingredient is a strong and curious team, always pushing the limits and status quo.
Q:What are your plans for the future?
A: Providing a fully integrated solution for our customers, starting from CAD design to final part. Along the value you chain we empower engineers with our Fibrify software to quickly find the best designs, we fully automate repetitive tasks to increase productivity and comfort on the shop floor, as well as integrate quality control and logistics. At the end, a final part from design to production will not take more than 24h, compared to 4 weeks today.