Evolve’s Selective Toner Electrophotographic Process (STEP) technology involves depositing successive layers on a build plate and then applying light, heat, and/or pressure to create dense, isotropic parts. (Image source: US Patent 8488994 B2)

Stratasys unveils high-production additive manufacturing spin-off

Traditional manufacturers have long sought to combine the benefits of additive manufacturing with the material, quality, and economics of traditional production processes. Today, Stratasys Ltd. unveiled the spin-off of its Selective Toner Electrophotographic Process (STEP) technology and forming of Evolve Additive Solutions.

After nearly 10 years as an incubation project (previously a wholly-owned subsidiary), the new organization will be exclusively focused on bringing the STEP technology to market, with the goal of delivering full color (spot and process), high-volume production additive manufacturing at speeds up to 50 times faster than other current, commercially available additive processes.

Evolve’s STEP technology—which began as electrophotography-based additive manufacturing (EPSD) in 2009—is aimed at producing parts at a cost, quality, and throughput comparable to traditional manufacturing processes. The STEP process combines 2D imaging technology (like that of a photocopier) with developments from Evolve to align incoming layers of print medium and create sophisticated bonding techniques (light, heat, and/or pressure) that build up final parts. These final parts are fully dense and possess the isotropic properties (X, Y and Z directional strength) of injection molding.

The solution is intended for high-volume production runs into the hundreds of thousands per year. As such, it is expected to directly compete with traditional processes (e.g., injection molding).

STEP is designed for automated manufacturing and Industry 4.0 factory-floor integration. According to the company, it will incorporate production-grade amorphous and semi-crystalline thermoplastics for volume production applications across multiple industries, including aerospace.

“We are excited to introduce Evolve Additive Solutions and proprietary STEP technology,” said Steve Chillscyzn, CEO of Evolve Additive Solutions and co-inventor of STEP. “We believe the STEP technology is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap in the market not yet addressed by additive or traditional manufacturing technologies,” continued Chillscyzn. “It is the first-of-its-kind technology offering an additive method for mass production. It’s designed to deliver the benefits of additive, while handling high-volume production. And we’re confident in the Evolve team’s ability to make this technology a success.” 

Evolve has already begun to seek out initial purchase orders from several leading automotive, consumer goods and aerospace companies during its alpha stage.

Over the next 12 months, Evolve also plans to engage new customers to evaluate beta systems for applications in volume production environments across many vertical markets, however, Evolve has not yet announced the date of expected general availability of its products.

Industry Consultant Todd Grimm commented, “Evolve’s STEP process is interesting because it brings a completely new approach to production environments using additive manufacturing, yet it prints using production grade thermoplastics, which is what manufacturers are most familiar with when producing parts conventionally. Having had the opportunity to get a glimpse early on, it’s very encouraging to see how Evolve has progressed the development of the STEP process,” according to industry consultant Todd Grimm.

This announcement came the same day as Stratasys announced the formation of another spin-off, Vulcan Labs, Inc., focused on improving quality, repeatability, and efficiency of powder-bed fusion (PBF) system. In short, Vulcan Labs is tasked to meet the complex demands of end-use production applications; significantly overcoming typical deficiencies of productivity, quality, and certification. The company’s primary focus is advancing the quality, repeatability and efficiency of PBF technology with an initial focus on metals. The company will begin by focusing on optimized build environments, unique multi-laser scan strategies, closed loop melt pool quality control, detailed data logging, factory floor integration, and automating powder handling, in-situ powder quality characterization, calibration, and build set-up capabilities.

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