Evolve Advances Additive—Manufacturing
If you’re interested in additive manufacturing—even interested while fully thinking that you really need some reasonable production volumes, say of 15,000 to 20,000 parts, and know that what’s out there right now pretty much is limited to a fraction of that number—then here’s an acronym to know: STEP, and a company to stay aware of: Evolve Additive Solutions.
STEP stands for “selective thermoplastic electrophotographic process.” This process, according to Steve Chillscyzn, CEO of Evolve (which has spun out of Stratasys, which has been in the additive business for some 30 years, and has been a pioneer in developing additive processes), can produce parts 50 times faster than existing additive processes.
What’s more, these parts are made with engineering-grade thermoplastics—starting out with ABS and TPU--that are comparable to the materials used for conventional injection molding.
Essentially, the STEP process is going to be applied to parts that might otherwise be produced via injection molding. They have run tests and have determined that they can be at a cost-per-part comparable to injection molding, which is quite an accomplishment vis-à-vis conventional additive processes.
And importantly, the parts produced with STEP have the same isotropic properties in X, Y and Z as injection molded parts, so there can be use in applications that are presently achieved via injection molding. And the quality of the surface finish is such that it is like injection molded parts, requiring no polishing or related post-processing.
According to Chillscyzn, the process is a form of digital laser printing, which accounts for the high deposition rate. The materials are in the form of 22-micron particles; the throughput of the process is such that the material is supplied in 55-gallon drums.
The work envelope of the machine can produce parts that are 24 inches long, 13 inches wide and six inches wide.
An interesting capability of the process, which puts down material voxel-by-voxel, is that there can be a mixture of rigid and soft materials. One example is an armrest, which could be printed with an ABS as the substrate and the softer TPU on top.
Also, it is possible to provide full-color capability through loading the print bays with the plastic particles colored with the CMYK colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black)), and then mix them as required to achieve the desired color(s).
Chillscyzn emphasizes that the Evolve system is for industrial processes, to be a piece of equipment that is as capable as any machine tool. One of the things they’re currently working on is automation that will allow quicker throughput.
He provides an example of a part they’ve run to provide some data related to the cost-effectiveness of the STEP process compared with injection molding. It is a bracket for an industrial fiber optic manufacturer that is made with ABS. The part run is 2,000 parts.
For the injection molding process, the cost of a mold is $2,000 and the time to create the mold is on the order of from two to four weeks. Once the equipment is in place, the cycle time is 25 seconds per part. The cost per part—including the amortization of the mold—is $2.64.
For the Evolve process, there is no mold, so that time and cost are taken out of the calculations. Each run is 768 part. It requires a three-hour build time. But the cycle time per part is 14 seconds. The cost per part is $1.38.
Given that there is the amount of time required to produce the mold included, this is a matter of weeks. As there is no mold needed for the Evolve process, all 2,000 parts can be produced in a single day.
Chillscyzn says that they anticipate having commercial equipment on the market in about two years. They are currently looking for customers who want to participate in beta testing of the machine.
Evolve just might be the company that puts “manufacturing” into “additive manufacturing.”
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