‘‘Bringing high-performance composites and additive manufacturing closer’’

SphereCube 3D printing technology is able to process continuously-reinforced high performance composites for next gen mold-less environmentally friendly production. The Italian startup technology allows to cure the matrices by heat, offering the possibility to print most of the commercial resins validated in the composites sector. Coupled with a specifically designed extrusion head, SphereCube’s 3D printer opens new horizons for composites industrial applications. Valerio Di Pompeo, CEO of SphereCube, presents this efficient solution. This interview has been published in the JEC Composites Magazine N°150.

‘‘Bringing high-performance composites and additive manufacturing closer’’

3 minutes, 60 secondes

JEC Composites Magazine: Can you summarize the history of your company and the solution you propose?
Valerio Di Pompeo, CEO of SphereCube: The idea of SphereCube was born when i was a student at the Marche Polytechnic University and met with Alessio Vita, who was one of the professors of a specialisation course on composite materials. We agreed that there were no industrially validated 3D printing technologies using the most common raw materials in the world of composites production such as thermosetting resins and continuous reinforcements. As we began discussing possible solutions, the first sketch of what is now the heart of the SphereCube’s 3D printerwas born: the ex­trusion head. Together we then we involved, and the team is still growing. The solution proposed by SphereCube is an innovative 3D printer specifically designed to realize the most performant 3D printed polymer-based composites parts, exploiting thermosetting matrix and continuous fibre reinforcement.

JEC Composites Magazine: Your technology is based on thermal laser curing, what are its advantages compared to the others when applied to composite materials?
Valerio Di Pompeo: SphereCube has patent­ed a technology that allows to cure the matrices using heat. This type of curing process guarantees the possibility of printing most of the commercial resins already validat­ed in the composite sector. The extrusion head that SphereCube has developed can be mounted on different moving systems, from a robotic arm to a gantry and a crane. This makes the system scalable and adaptable to a number of potential applications. Similar technologies use thermoset UV curable resins, but this limits the available matrices to materials that are not yet vali­dated in the composite market.

While the competitors’ 3D printing systems use robotic arms, SphereCube’s 3D printer is based on a 5-axis system characterized by higher preci­sion and repeatability and an average print volume of 400 x 400 x 400 mm. This system allows to reach higher mechanical performances due to the reduced number of voids and residual stresses.

JEC Composites Magazine: What kind of composite materials can be processed with your printing solution? What are the main advantages you offer?
Valerio Di Pompeo: The technology de­veloped by SphereCube uses a two-component epoxy-based resin (resin+hardener) and continuous fibre as reinforcing material. SphereCube’s patented extrusion head allows for efficient mixing of matrix and reinforcement so that there is a perfect adhesion of the former on the latter, and then, via a heat source, the composite is cured (solidified) partially or fully, as needed, once extruded.

The partial cure of the matrix, once the material is extruded, guarantees a perfect adhesion and bonding between the 3D printed layers, leading to an increased interlaminar resistance. Systems for cutting the fibres and compacting the deposited materials couple with the rest of the extrusion head, completing it.

The extrusion head that SphereCube has developed makes the system scalable and adaptable to a number of potential applications

The system is highly versatile and allows processing of different types of thermoset matrices and the use of continuous reinforcing fibres of any nature including bio-based (e.g. flax, hemp) ones.

The matrices can be, for example, epoxies or phenolic resins and SphereCube system is able to process different configurations with different viscosity and curing time by managing process parameters. The advantages are evident: customers can choose from a broad range of materials according to their needs in terms of physical properties, costs, sustainability and manufacturing time. In addition, customers will also be able to choose qualified materials for aerospace, thus re­ducing their development times and costs.

JEC Composites Magazine: Where are you now in terms of development?
Valerio Di Pompeo: We are developing and printing parts for customers. The 3D printer prototype allows us to validate and promote the technology and collect feedbacks from the customers.

JEC Composites Magazine: Have you already raised funds or do you plan to proceed with a fundraising in the near future? Who are your main supports/ partners in this adventure?
Valerio Di Pompeo: We have participated to the Takeoff acceleration program, which includes CDP venture capital, Plug and Play, Leonardo, Avio, fondazione CRT and Unicredit as main partners. We have some investors interested in our team and technology but we can’t say more.

JEC Composites Magazine: What sector(s)/applications are you targetting?
Valerio Di Pompeo: Thanks to the use of well-known raw materials in the composite sectors inside a 3D printing system, SphereCube is bringing the world of high-per­formance composites and addi­tive manufacturing closer and closer, ensuring shape optimisation, customisation, improved component performance and reduced weight. These features allow us to look at all the appli­cations that benefit from weight reduction such as aerospace, motorsport and automotive. Other sectors that SphereCube is approaching are biomedical and sport due to the possibility of personalisation. As we speak, the team is already working on the fabrication of components for the above-mentioned sectors.

JEC Composites Magazine: Have you been approached by major accounts?
Valerio Di Pompeo: Yes, we are working with some major accounts but these projects are under NDA.

JEC Composites Magazine: What are the next steps for your company/product?
Valerio Di Pompeo: The next steps is to validate the technology with the customers. Once we will reach the right metrics and feedbacks, our plan is to sell the 3D printing system which comprises a dedicated software, optimised materials and the 3D printer.

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