The Mark One 3D printer, available later this year, extrudes continuous carbon fiber.

The Mark One 3D printer, available later this year, extrudes continuous carbon fiber.

Credit: MarkForged

Finding scalable ways to extrude stronger, more resilient materials is the next challenge for developers of digital fabrication technology. Aerospace engineer and composites expert Greg Mark founded MarkForged to explore the possibilities of automating the fabrication of advanced composites. Recently, the company announced the production of Mark One, a 3D printer that extrudes carbon fiber instead of the conventional thermoplastic.

The cloud-enabled printer measures 12.7" deep, 22.6" long, and 14.2" tall, allowing designers to produce parts with longer spans while keeping the machine sized for desktop use. Because the Mark One prints with continuous strands of carbon fiber—an alternative to polymers with short carbon-fiber inclusions that are used to make some carbon-reinforced composites—users can create physical objects with extremely high strength-to-weight ratios. In some cases, the ratios exceed that of the 6061-T6 aluminum commonly used in aircraft construction. The carbon-fiber prints are also 20 times stiffer and five times stronger than ABS plastic.

The Mark One prints in a range of materials, including fiberglass, nylon, biodegradable PLA, and abrasion-resistant Kevlar. Its versatility enables the printer to serve a variety of projects while its ability to accept multiple mediums make it useful for prototyping. Users can print test models in less expensive polymers before finalizing objects in the more resilient and costly materials.

MarkForged claims that the Mark One's print-head operation and curing process are superior to conventional 3D printers because the chemical-free materials it uses harden immediately. And without requiring a lengthy post-curing process or vacuum bagging, the Mark One poses less of a threat to indoor environmental quality than other printers may.

Due out later this year, the Mark One may be pre-ordered for $4,999. The full developer kit—complete with Kevlar filament—is available for a hefty $8,799.

Watch the Mark One at work:

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.