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First the E-Bike, Next the Flying Car

This company thinks its 3D-printing technology for carbon fiber can do anything

Carbon fiber composites are incredibly strong for their weight; that’s why they’re key to the newest aircraft designs. However, they’re only strong in one direction, so they’re generally layered or woven in grid patterns before being shaped into structures. That means one set of fibers carries the load some of the time, and another set carries it at other times—which is not the most efficient use of the material.

In 2014, Hemant Bheda was CEO of Quantum Polymers, a company that makes extruded plastic rods, plates, and other shapes for machined parts. The company used chopped up carbon fiber in some of its materials, but a potential customer asked for a material which would require continuous carbon fiber to be embedded in a polymer material in carefully laid paths that would give the material super mechanical properties.

“I said that we couldn’t do it,” Bheda recalls, but he kept thinking about that request. As he says was typical for him, an EE whose career has focused on software, and particularly on image compression and video, he kept wondering if the issue was a software problem instead of a hardware problem.

Then, he says, he came across a paper about 3D printing. Why, he thought, “can’t we come up with an algorithm for optimal orientation of the fiber in 3-D space and only use the fiber in the directions you need it?”