Coming from the engineering sector, Blake Teipel, President and co-Founder of Essentium, has always been looking at how to advance supply chains and how to advance manufacturing solutions in a wide variety of industries. Partnering with BASF, Blake is disrupting traditional manufacturing processes by bringing strength and speed together without compromising the material set. He shares that they’re committed to creating industrial 3D printing solutions for the world’s top manufacturers to bridging the gap between 3D printing and machining. Blake talks about the industrial or heavy duty use of 3D printing materials and shares what new tools are available on the market today.
I am super excited about our episode. I thought it was just going to be another filament coverage with a machine involved and it was just going to be a little more industrial-based and it blew my mind. This interview and what this company is doing, it’s the real deal. I can’t rave about it enough. I’m super excited about it. We definitely tapped into something that is so great in terms of collaboration and application and true advancement of 3D printing process using fused filament fabrication or FDM process in a Cartesian-style machine.
We have Blake Teipel who is the President and Co-Founder of Essentium 3D. It’s a new company that is manufacturing industrial grade FDM or FFF 3D printer in cooperation with BASF. If you don’t know BASF, they are a serious material science and chemical development company. They’ve made this special material and they have this new 3D printer. Essentium was awarded the SME Innovation Grand Prize in 2016 for novel electromagnetic welding technology. What they’re doing is it’s an FFF 3D printer, but it’s completely different. In the interview, the bond strength layer to layer is so far advanced. It is much better than any other fused filament fabrication 3D printer can achieve and I’ll let him tell you why.
Listen to the podcast here:
Industrial 3D Printing That Makes Additive Manufacturing Real with Blake Teipel of Essentium
Blake, thanks so much for joining us. I’m excited to talk, I am going to call it high-impact development work you’ve been doing with BASF and with your Essentium platform. We want to learn so much about this because it’s been a long time since we’ve done an episode that talked about that industrial use or that heavy-duty use of 3D printing and materials.
Thank you so much, Tracy. It’s wonderful to be with you. We’re excited to be able to share the Essentium story and help our friends and colleagues across the manufacturing sectors understand a little bit what might be available to them for new tools that can be brought to the market.
I was intrigued because I know BASF because I come out of the textile industry. I know a lot about materials and things like that. That’s how I saw this press release about you. It intrigued me because we haven’t seen that type of high level collaboration for a specific end-use before. In this case, I’d love to get to that, but I want to lay the groundwork so people understand what your company does and what your machine does because it’s very cool and how you got started. We’ll talk about the application to prosthetics joints specifically, but I want to lay this groundwork for how you got started with 3D printing and with the innovation that you’ve developed here for Z strength.
We got started as a group of folks looking at how to advance supply chains and how to advance manufacturing solutions in a wide variety of industries. I personally came from the off-highway engineering sector. I was an engineer at John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa for a little bit over a year. Then I was also an engineer at Caterpillar working on diesel engines and working on hydraulic pumps and hydraulic systems and hydraulic components. We were able to build a factory where we were able to bring a brand-new technology to the marketplace for high capacity hydraulic parts. We were not able to use 3D printing because 3D printing was too cost prohibitive. I was sad about that because I said to myself, “I would like to be able to communicate my designs, develop functional prototypes and eventually go into production with the technology that is customizable and makes economic sense.”
You were a little jealous of those people getting to use 3D printing.
I totally was. I saw those guys in the manufacturing floor. They could use 3D printing, but even there, it was so limited. I went back to grad school. We started on the material science side and we said, “How can we make 3D print stronger?” About that time, we began collaborating with our friends and colleagues at BASF who basically called us and said, “BASF is interested also in functional 3D printing, ways to take additive and truly scale additive manufacturing in the functional use cases.” They said, “Why don’t we work together on that?” I said, “Great.” That’s how we got together.
I like that term advanced manufacturing solutions that you use there because that to us is where it needs to be. This is that tipping point year that I keep saying we’re seeing a lot of application use, we’re seeing a lot of advances to make that manufacturing process streamlined so that it can occur. It’s solving the problems that we have as end users who would like to be using 3D printing because we’re like you. We’d love to be using 3D printing. We’d love to be using it for consumer retail so that we don’t have all these products on the shelf everywhere. They’re made to order. That’s our dream of it and we can’t do that yet because there are still failure points along the way, whether it’s the material or the process or finishing or all kinds of things like that. You started to solve some of those problems both on the machine side and the material side though.
The materials piece for us was where we started. We said, “The material, if it’s going to go into a functional part, be it consumer, be it automotive, be it aerospace, be it biomedical, that material has to function in a way that is reliable.” That was one of the challenges with 3D printing was that it was not yet developed to the place where you could reliably trust the materials that were used for wide-ranging applications. That’s where BASF came and they said, “We’ve got materials that are used in cars. We’ve got materials that are used in footwear, materials that are used in medical devices. Why don’t we start exploring ways to take those materials and develop them into a solution that can be trusted?” That was part of what we were able to do together in the last couple of years is demonstrate the ability to trust these materials that for example, are now able to be used in prosthetics in ways that improve access, healthcare that the people need in places all over the world.
That’s interesting because when you have an application, this is what we say all the time when we talk here about the some of the way. People who develop printers or people who develop materials end up in silos and like, “We want it to do everything,” and they get all excited about being able to do everything. When you go to apply it, in the case of prosthetic joints for instance, you have a lot of other problems that come about. Is it strong enough? Is it fusing well enough? Is this directionality of its strength the wrong direction? You have a whole bunch of it and it’s the application of it where you start to solve those problems.
The materials themselves are part of the solution, but they’re not the total solution and neither is the machine or the process. That total solution is displayed and able to be understood in an application. That’s why I love what you said, Tracy, about this is the year of the application. I couldn’t agree more.
Tell us a little bit about the machine innovation you’ve got and then we’ll talk a little bit about the properties of the materials.
The cool thing about the machine is that Essentium is now launching in 2018, a commercially wide-ranging manufacturing machine that can make 3D printed parts at speeds and at economic points that have not existed before. This is groundbreaking. I know that’s a buzzy word and I have to use it, but what we’re able to do is print parts at least ten times faster than other printed parts would have been prepared in the past, especially for extrusion-type printing.
When we say extrusion additive, we use a printing technology that is built on the top of FDM. FDM stands for Fused Deposition Modeling. It’s the type of 3D printing that Stratasys embedded and commercialized in MakerBots and Ultimakers. There are tons of users of FDM, but the problem has been for FDM two-fold. Number one, the strength hasn’t been there in between the layers. That’s what Essentium has worked on with BASF. About halfway through the year last year, we started building new efforts in the machine space. We said, “If the strength and the consumer and the automaker are all going to be able to come together in new ways, we need a machine that can build the parts faster and more cheaply so that you can scale this into true production.” I’m excited about Essentium’s new machine. It’s called the High Speed Extrusion Platform. We fundamentally have pushed the speed. We fundamentally have pushed the extrusion profiles of our materials into regimes previously not seen in additive manufacturing.
Blake, I want to chime in for the segment of our listeners that when you said that I just said, “I’ve heard that before.” I want you to help illuminate our audience and paint that picture for us. How much faster can it be? I’ve heard this from others, “We’re going to make a machine that’s faster.” Everybody sets out to make a machine that works faster and when it comes down to it, to get the quality they need, they have to dial the speed back down again. Whether it’s millimeters per second or how are you measuring the speed and what have you been able to achieve?
Speed for us is measured in two ways. It’s throughput, pounds per hour or kilograms per hour for a certain nozzle size. You always have to balance the accuracy or resolution of the printed part with the layer height or the layer size, the trace width, and things like that. For nozzle size, we’re able to put material through between 6.8 and 30X faster than any other extrusion system that we’ve seen. We’re able to do that by combining our extrusion system with a motion system that comes out of the semiconductor machine tool space.
I apologize for using analogy here, but if you think about what Tesla did to build an electric car, they basically brought together a bunch of iPhone guys and said, “What would an iPhone looked like if it had wheels?” Instead of a bunch of car guys and said, “How do I make a car into an electric car?” What makes Tesla offering a compelling offering is that it’s put together by a bunch of folks who were unencumbered by limitations from the industry into which they’re placing their products. That’s what makes us special. Our entire machine team is a semiconductor machine tool team. If you’ve seen pick and place robots, if you’ve seen any kind of chip shooter machines or flip chip machines, and things like that, these machines operate at a tremendously high rate of speed and accuracy. When you have that motion system and you combine that motion system with our extrusion system, that’s where the win takes place for us.
That is a lot faster for sure. When you have most FFF or FDM 3D printers running at 100 millimeters per second, that’s fast. You’re talking about 3 to 10X that in laying down a different kind of filament with a different kind of machine.
We’re using motion speeds that start at 300 millimeters per second. The motion speeds go up from there while extruding, that’s a little bit of the difference for us. We’ve started to see a couple other folks putting out some motion systems that can travel very fast. Even in fact there’s at least one case we know where some great guys are putting down a nice printer system that can print at about 350 millimeters per second. You get this motion speed moving at a fairly high rate of speed while it’s depositing material. We start there and we go well beyond that regime.
Speed is one thing, but then we understand part of your technology creates a stronger bond between layers. I’m excited about that as well because that’s usually the weak link in the chain. The first place that a part will break down is a layer that didn’t adhere well, or even if it adhered well, or at least we thought it did, that’s still going to be your weak link where it breaks.
What we’ve been able to do is develop a melt-zone size that is 100X larger than the melt zone size for FDM. An analogy I think that’s useful here, if you imagined yourself that you’ve got two metal plates, let’s say you’re building a car or a bucket for a hydraulic excavator or backhoe, you bring these two metal plates together and you put heat down and create this melt zone. One plate is melting and bonding with the metal on the other plate. That’s what’s trying to happen in FDM. FDM is trying to create a melt zone in the printer and on the filament so that the polymer layers, the polymer molecules can come and go across the boundary. The problem has been up to this point is that melt zone is too small. We’re not able to achieve a melt zone size which can provide enough time and temperature for the polymer chains to migrate across that layer boundary and create a strong interface.
In a simple sense, the bottom layer, you’ve laid down cools and then you’re putting a hot layer down on top of it and it may bond, but typically there’s a limitation on how much material welds together. It does mix and fuse. The speed is going to help for one thing. If you’re laying down a layer faster, that’s going to help. Layer to layer this melt zone you’re saying, is this just a larger diameter nozzle or what does the melt zone mean?
What we’ve done is we’ve combined electricity with purely thermal forms of energy. Today’s FDM printers use a nozzle which has a heating element in it or a block or even if they’re very sophisticated and concentrically wound wires to heat the nozzle. The nozzle is putting down heat. If you think about it, nozzles conducting heat into an insulated material. Plastic by nature is insulated. Even if you have carbon fiber composites, carbon nanotube composites, composites where the polymer is filled with conductive filaments, that polymer is still an insulator. The manner in which you’re conducting heat energy into the part is by itself on its head inefficient.
What we’ve then done is we’ve created a multilayered filament architecture where the outer layer of that filament has a highly conductive carbon nanotube coding that is encased fully inside polymer and the nanotubes themselves conduct electricity. Around our nozzle, on the hardware side, we have basically we can think of as the brim of the hat, like a top hat. You put that brim of the hat all the way around the periphery of the nozzle and that brim of the hat is conducting electricity into the part. Because we have this multilayered filament, the carbon nanotube composite is coupling. You have this electrically coupling phenomenon where the electricity is going down the electrically conductive outer layer and that layer is heating up.
The reason we need nanotubes is because the polymer length scale is on the quarter of ten to the minus tenth meters. The nanotubes are on ten to the minus nine. We’re able to create volumetric joule heating with only one order of magnitude removed from the actual polymer chain itself. That’s what’s special about how we’re able to heat that part up. It’s through joule heating, so we’re heating the part volumetrically, whereas if I had a laser, if I had a sonic system or even just a hotter nozzle, all I would be doing is trying to increase the temperature of the polymer that I’m laying down onto as you said that layer that itself has become cold. Whereas when you’re conducting electricity, you’re conducting electricity volumetrically and you’re preheating the lower layer. You’re putting down the material on top of the lower layer that is becoming preheated and you’re volumetrically keeping that layer hot because the carbon nanotubes are coupling with the electric fields is truly special.
That’s why the speed is essential then because otherwise you’d have deformation of form if you were not working at that speed.
In the combination of speed and electricity, bringing them together, you have a strong part. There was a big advantage because you can come back around and the part itself is not able to cool off too fast, then you’re already starting from a smaller Delta-T, but you still have that Delta-T. At the end of the day, you’re going to eliminate the Delta-T between the previous layer and the current layer. That’s where our Flashfuse Technology comes into play, it’s to eliminate the Delta-T creating a large melt zone.
I expected to enjoy our conversation because it was different and because we are going to get to talk about materials too. I was excited about that, but now I’m blown away. It’s not easy to get Tracy excited about something highly technical in 3D printing because to an extent, we’ve heard a lot in this industry. This is completely different even if it’s within a familiar machine behavior. This seems to be a completely different technology. It’s operating in what I would call a familiar behavior in terms of it’s laying down layer-by-layer. It’s a Cartesian-operating machine, but it seems that that’s where the similarities end.
Our first embodiment, our first platform, our first machine is a Cartesian machine, but we are not encumbering ourselves to even stop there. Think robotics and the ability to truly move in the three dimensions and build three dimensional parts, not just the two and a half D. You can mount what we’re calling our plasma head. You can mount the plasma head onto an extrusion system as long as you use material that is sufficiently electrically conductive, you can build a part that’s strong in all directions in a variety of machine embodiments. That’s what’s exciting about what we’re doing.
Let’s talk about that combination of the materials. This material is high impact, high intensity and you need that in specific applications. One of the case studies that you’re looking at is the prosthetics joints themselves, which the joints have a lot of movement and they have a lot of wear, which is why they have so many issues because it’s all directional.
When it comes to prosthetics, in fact my next-door neighbor was an amputee. My next-door neighbor was a Vietnam veteran who served our country and he lost both legs and an arm in a roadside bomb in Vietnam. This man still had no limitations. He was a substitute teacher at our local high school. He taught safety. He would ride horses with one arm. This man was truly an inspiration to me, but I thought to myself, “What could he do if he had a better medical device? A medical device that fit his body better, a medical device that costs less, a medical device that perhaps was comfortable to wear because he was wheelchair-bound otherwise?” What we did with prosthetics and with a brand that is called TriFusion Devices. TriFusion Devices is Essentium’s biomedical brand. We’ve figured out not just how to use these materials for prosthetics or orthotics, how to address the supply chain for what’s was called ex vivo biomedical devices. Ex vivo just means a device you’re putting outside of your body. Prosthetic socket, orthopedic device, or it be an insert for your shoe, orthotic device, back brace, spine brace.
Let me break that down a little for the non-medical and non-techie people here. What it means is that it’s like when you say some plastics are food safe or these properties. When it’s outside of your body, it’s allowed to have certain properties, but it still has requirements and restrictions and then when it’s inside your body, if it was a plastic or something that went inside your body, it has totally different material properties as well. That’s what we’re saying here.
It would be still quite difficult to be able to use our technology inside the body. We’re not doing that yet. We’re starting out outside the body because what we can do is reach the TriFusion Devices and through the materials that are coming in through BASF, we’re able to lower the cost dramatically. We can lower the cost by a factor of about 3 to 10X. We’re going to improve the time to first device by a tremendous amount. Today’s prosthetics, if you look at the time it takes to produce the prosthetic socket using today’s carbon fiber fabric technology that are largely built by hand, in many cases that can take weeks. Weeks of a person’s actual hand labor to build the device. A person who’s an amputee or they’ve lost their limb for whatever reason or maybe they were born without a limb, that person’s waiting for that device to be made. Whereas if you use a 3D scan, 3D model, 3D print workflow, you can provide the device within hours. That’s the promise of 3D printing, but your materials have to be trustworthy. Your process and your machine have to be trustworthy. That’s where we come in is to make that possible.
So that they can last longer, allow them to ride horses and do all of those wonderful things that they would like to be doing. I think it was our third episode ever in our podcast where we were talking about a little girl who had lost her arm and they were up in LA, had been helping to develop it. It was least 50 hours of 3D printing and it was around 200 total hours to make this entire prosthetic. Keep in mind this prosthetic was not a commercially made one. This was a makerspace in an organization working to provide them to people that couldn’t afford them. They were starting with a good model and they were working with someone to help fit. They had a team together but it still took a tremendous amount of time. Time needs to be spent in that fit side of things and not so much on the making side of things. You’re allowing for that because the making side can be much faster. It gives you more time to make that fit just right which is so essential.
That fit is critical. Ideally you could adjust the fit and that’s where the new materials come in. That’s where the thermoplastics come in, is being able to provide an adjustable fit. Carbon fiber infused is like carbon fiber nylon. This is quite a strong material and still able to be adjustable with a heat gun so you can get that fit exactly where you want it to be.
I want to see where you’re going with this because you’ve got yourself poised between fantastic material science and machine innovation and manufacturing knowledge and understanding of what’s needed to be a part of an industrial process. Where is your company going?
We’re like the Falcon Heavy, sitting on a launch pad getting ready to lift off. That’s where I think of us in our company. You’re going to have something big, a giant fireball, or ideally something that can move an industry. Back when I worked at John Deere, when I worked in Caterpillar, I was hoping to be able to make parts for building roads, bridges, houses and schools. Now, we can make machines that builders everywhere can use in all kinds of industries. We think that our team is positioned, our company is positioned to be able to affect healthcare, to be able to affect consumer products.
For example, the consumer space, you’ve probably heard this before, but look at what is being done in the footwear space right now. For the first time, you can start to buy fully customized 3D printed shoes, but 3D printed shoes still have to be produced in a factory somewhere away from the customer. The magic of our printer is that our printer is safe, our printer is fast. It does not use solvents. You can put the printer into an actual shoe store. The printer can go into a shoe store. It’s fully able to do that and it can print fast enough where that makes sense. We believe that Essentium is poised to push manufacturing forward. That’s what we’re doing.
You could sell this machine into a pop-up shop situation within a store to print certain products and because of the speed, you don’t have to tell people, “Come back after a long lunch and you can have a part that’s the size of a golf ball.”
You could have a part the size of a golf ball in a few minutes. If you came back after a long lunch, you could have an entire orthopedic insert for your shoe.
Have you been testing this, making prosthetics for people? Is this a proof of concept? Is that part of the business that you’re trying to go into?
Prosthetics for us, the TriFusion Devices is our first use case. There’s a chance for us to understand the end-to-end business to affect a supply chain for which you can have zero inventory. That’s the ability here for consumer goods. When you think about the consumers, a consumer good you buy off the shelf has been touched by a supply chain that in many cases spans comments. If you can put between us the supply chain and put the manufacturing device very close to where the person buys the finished part and most finished parts we buy off the shelf are composed of assemblies of many parts.
If you can make those parts in a closed regional way and you can put that machine very close, the customer can address the entire supply chain. That’s what we started to do with TriFusion, getting back to your question. With TriFusion, we’ve sold over 800 fully accustomed bespoke biomedical devices across the United States, a little bit into Canada and we’re starting to go into Europe right now. That’s in fourteen months. In January 2017, we were just getting started and we sold around 550 in the first year and we’ll probably sell around 800 this year. Those are still small numbers when you think about consumers, but when you go from zero to a new supply chain solution, we’re excited to see where it goes from here.
We’ve worked in the retail consumer product space for 25 years. That’s our home and that’s where we fell in love with the idea of the future of 3D printing, which has not come to fruition because of so many things that need to come together. One of our biggest issues of why it’s not been working, why it’s not been progressing fast enough, is that the manufacturers of the machines and the materials are not communicating with those that are the designers of the end product. You’ve been bringing all parties together to collaborate to solve the end use problem. That is that model of it and I’m assuming in the process you almost end up with a customized machine model as well, which is common in industrial manufacturing people don’t realize. It’s not like we go and we buy it off the shelf and we stick our MakerBots into a farm and we’re in production. That’s not how it works in the industry.
To that, Foxconn, one of the largest suppliers to Apple computer for example, makes their own robots.
No one does that model. When you get into serious high-volume manufacturing, you can afford to go and create customized machines or apply machines that are at another level. You mentioned Tesla manufacturing. You mentioned more of the creation of the Tesla. How a bunch of people who came from designing iPhones, what would they do if they created a car? I agree with you. That was a brilliant approach to car design. The other thing that I’m sure you know about Tesla, because it seems like you’re a fan of the company, is that they reinvented the manufacturing of an automobile. If you ever seen one of those videos on YouTube on how a Tesla car flows through their factory. It is not Henry Ford’s assembly line. It is an entirely modern thing. In addition to adding videos that you have on your website for your technology for this episode, I’m going to throw on one of those Tesla video so people can see it. It applies to this conversation.
You bring up mass manufacturing. The exciting part is that the team that we have here to work on our printer platform has worked in mass manufacturing for a long time. Over twenty years is the average experience set per machine engineer. A lot of these guys came out of the semiconductor space. When you think about demanding manufacturing verticals, I don’t know of anywhere which are more demanding than the semicon verticals. We’re just excited. It’s a great moment for us and I wanted to key in on something that Tracy said about collaborations because she’s exactly right. If there’s one other thing I’d add about 2018 in additive manufacturing and where the industry is, the year of the application is also the year of the collaboration.
Not one company is going to bring the entire thing. There’s going to be multiple winners. We’re not claiming we’re going to be the only winner. We’re going to be all winner but we’re not going to be the only ones. Having open business models, models where you allow the customer to make their own choice. The customer in the mass manufacturing case, they’re going to either build their own machine if they’re big enough or they’re going to invent their own material if they’re big enough. Instead of that, why don’t we have a global chemical company with a business model that believes in faster innovation and works with those end users to build the materials with that application in mind? That’s the same thing we’re doing on the machine side.
The idea in my head was starting to emerge that essentially, it’s a collaborative vertical incubator you’re building here. You’re going to create this like little, “Here’s the business model for how to create prosthetics efficiently and here let’s go and license it to all orthopedic doctors and other places in which they can have this facility within their space.” That’s our ideal for retail as well. We would love every single distribution center around the country, around the world to be able to have a mini manufacturing facility to create the set of retail products that we have designed. That’s the process of having a product set which they are perfectly designed for 3D printing as opposed to ones that are adapted for 3D printing. If you can do so much more, so why not?
It’s the micro factory approach. There are a couple of companies. A car company like Local Motors, I like those guys. I like their cars. I think they’re cool. The thing that they’ve keyed into is this notion of centralized production is a thing and that has been a thing for the ‘90s and the early 2000s, but I don’t think that’s where manufacturing’s going in year 20, 30, the next 15 years. We’re going to see a lot more emergence of the micro factory close to where the parts are consumed. It’s that purpose-built factory. A micro-factory that’s built for additive, using additive, using digital tools in a similar way to how the Tesla factory has built using a lot of digital mindset, a lot of digital approach so that a car could flow through the factory. That’s how the parts should be. The parts should flow through the factory as well.
All the way out the door and right to the consumer in two days. Two days or less, we’re very comfortable with that. Blake, this has been a pleasure to talk to you and find out what you’re doing. I do not anticipate any kind of fireball on the launch pad here. I anticipate that you’ve got a great team together and that this is going to take off and it’s much needed. People should be patient waiting for that, but also willing to collaborate and work with you. You’ve got something going on. We think we’re going to have to maybe in six months or a year at most times, let’s have a follow-up interview and find out a lot of the applications hopefully that you’ll be able to talk about where it’s being used.
We can. I would love that. When you think about automotive, we are working with one of the world’s largest automakers right now on ways to change their factory. We’re working on ways to change their tooling, ways to change their parts. That’s exciting. We’re working already with one of the world’s largest aerospace companies as well on applications that are going to change how they service jet engines. This is powerful.
We need to speed that up, don’t we?
I look forward to the next conversation. Thank you all for your time today
Industrial 3D Printing That Makes Additive Manufacturing Real – Final Thoughts
I’m so excited. I want to buy one of these machines. I want to get it and I want to make all sorts of stuff because you realized how strong the parts are this thing can make. Their prices are on their website. Those are not high prices for industrial machines. It doesn’t scare me from building a factory standpoint. That’s not scary at all. They’re right in line with what you pay for normal machines. We don’t have a facility here. We’re not a factory. The prices of the filament essentially, they were all under $100 for a spool for this advanced material. The nylon carbon fiber two-kilogram and a three-millimeter diameter or 1.75, comes in both.
The material is not killer cost either. I would say appropriate to these industrial applications. That’s what I think because they come from that mindset, they’ve established the standards of how can we be competitive, how can we build a competitive machine but that does so much more. How can we make better materials? This is the strength of partnering with someone like BASF as opposed to a startup filament company. First off, there’s not all those mistakes that you’ll make because you haven’t been processing them for decades and doing materials. You don’t have all that great like what not to do and what to do. That’s something.
We were talking about that with the Village Plastics when we had our episode with Steve Gall that there is a power in the history of doing something in terms of quality and other things. As Blake pointed out though, there’s also a block when you bring in that outside viewpoint. This is something interesting that I’ve been studying over the years a lot about innovation and how innovation happens. Innovation happens from sometimes the first view of something. You want to call it beginner’s luck. That happens from someone and it’s not luck in any way, shape or form, it’s because they had an outside view and then they’re attacking a problem that they’ve never approached before. They come with a whole different set of viewpoints than someone who’s been working in that industry for so long or has so many paradigms that need shifting in order to find the innovation. It’s this outside view that goes, “Why don’t you try this?” Innovation happens. What he’s done here is by applying the semiconductor guys to this, you get that viewpoint that’s totally different and slightly outside of what was necessary and what is necessary to make this innovation happen. That excites me.
There are differences between making incremental improvements to fused filament fabrication Cartesian machine technology. We know some people that are developing new desktop 3D printers for use with the common plastic filaments available on the market that are truly making some innovations, but they’re still in pretty small ways. Pretty much every single company that we’ve probably interviewed on this podcast so far has been working with this technology and using off the shelf materials. Lucy Beard’s company developed some filaments with unique application for shoes that were more of a flexible technology. She developed the material that’s part of the core of why that works there. She did that. She brought in that collaboration.
I know they’ve also pushed the limits of how the machines work, but I don’t think they were truly inventing a new material at the chemical level. They’re still using TPUs. Maybe they’re doing custom colors and things to meet their needs. They modified the properties. It seems like Essentium and BASF have taken this to the nano level. They’ve taken what is wonderful outside viewpoint and that beginner’s luck model of innovation. They’ve taken that outside viewpoint, but they’ve married it with such great experience in quality, in material, science, and in construction of machines experience. You have those viewpoints. You’re marrying so much experience and an outside viewpoint because you’re applying it in a different way. That’s a win-win combination for everyone.
It’s where more innovation is going to happen. If you want to plan a business model around innovating, you just got a case study in how to do that. There was luck involved in here. I think it was a mindset free of paradigms and definiteness of purpose to coin a phrase from Napoleon Hill. The way we term it, intentional invention. You’re intentionally innovating. That’s the way we do it here. What’s essential was getting outside of the 3D printing industry box, but at the same time they didn’t just throw away things from that experience of 3D printing that still were perfectly appropriate and very useful to them.
When you look at this machine, it looks like your typical Cartesian format of machine. It’s got a build plate that moves in a Z axis and it’s got the carriage with your nozzles that moves in your X and Y dimensions. Fundamentally, it’s nothing dramatically different from the naked eyes. As Blake said, “Yet,” the next version will be. We’ve heard of certain innovations like that before from FormAlloy. We know their machine while using a nozzle and a layered building up process for metal, their machine has the ability that their nozzle is not just moving in X and Y and building layers, they can turn that on different axis and build up material where they need to on a part, which I think is some of the things that Blake was alluding to of different applications. He mentioned on extrusions or other applications that goes beyond just building layer by layer.
I’m sure that’s where they’re going with that. To me, it’s the combination of the material technology, the conductive electricity that is essentially in layman’s terms, it seems that it’s re-melting in a very, very small area at a time as it’s moving along incredibly quickly. Re-melting the material through that electric conduction of the previous layer so that it bonds much, much better with the new material being laid down and the strength characteristics, that’s going to be incredibly valuable. Melanie Lang of FormAlloy, that’s another one where we were like, “Wow.” Lots of reinvention and new viewpoints and new ways of working and thinking from great insight or knowledge of how things work in the aerospace industry and how things work in the automotive industry, which is what Melanie and her husband partner brought in with them. That’s the same thing that Blake’s got going on here. Those out of everything we’ve seen in these 530 something episodes that we’ve been doing, these are the most powerful future. I see a big future for them. I didn’t even get a chance to talk you about this but, and I’m not allowed to talk about it in detail. I got invited to do this industry insiders phone call, which is a bunch of different people who work with various large companies in and around the 3D print industry or are consultants into it and they reach out to you and everyone’s on a big round table and ask you your thoughts on various things. What’s happening in the industry? What is this the year of? What are you seeing? Are you positive for growth? It’s a group that puts this together for investors to listen to. It’s not insider information from that standpoint, but it is a gathering of experts to say what do they think about the 3D printing industry and I was invited into this. I was pleased to be invited into that. I heard there so many things and there were lots of questions about Stratasys and 3D Systems. Are they going to continue to be powerhouses as we go forward? My position on it, I can talk about that because I would say that to anyone. That’s my public position on it, but my position on it is I’m neutral on whether or not they’re growing or they have a positive outlook, whatever you want to term that and however you’re evaluating them.
Whether they’re poised for growth or poised to get left behind, your opinion is neutral on that. It wasn’t until now. I saw that 3D Systems and Stratasys are starter machines. They are the test machines, they’re never going to become the production machines, if Blake and Essentium is successful here. Does that mean though that Blake and Essentium may leave Stratasys and 3D Systems in the dust or you’re saying that, “No. The Stratasys and 3D Systems will still be needed because at an earlier stage level of development, their machines will be necessary even if somebody is developing new technology and different machines for production.” I don’t know if they would see themselves that way.
I think that they’ve seen themselves as the future manufacturing of 3D printing and my opinion has always been, “If they were the future, it would have already happened by now.” It is not because the materials that they’re using haven’t been continually developed because they’re always working on the materials. They have tons of new materials. It’s not about material options for them, it’s that the processing of these parts, the way the machines work, it’s not an ecosystem, it’s a single unit. That’s fine when you’re going to go through at the models of business. When we’re in a model of business right here, right now and we’re testing out this idea that we might be able to make consumer retail products in a distribution center using our example. We are going to develop that ecosystem.
You’re not going to start by making that whole thing from an industrial standpoint and spend millions of dollars, at least not if you’re smart. That’s not the way we do it. You want to use existing technology that’s available because that’s a known quantity, which is exactly what Lucy Beard did. Feetz, they took existing machines, they modified them to do what they needed to do to make sure that they made what they needed to make to be successful there, but they took off the shelf ones because that’s faster and easier than building a home machine and building the firmware and the software, when you don’t even know if you have a market yet, because you got to build a market.
That’s how you start. You start in the hand modeling stage. That’s how we develop business. That’s how we develop products. You start in that, “I’m willing to hack stuff. I’m willing to hobble it together and prove the concept.” That’s stage one. Stage two is you go to some semi automation. You may build farms and some systems to connect everything, speed things up and while you’re doing that you work on material development and machine development and then you get into the, “How am I going to make this a module at which I can insert into every distribution center? How am I going to make the scale and make it complete in and of itself, do everything as automated as possible and create an assembly line in that sense of the word?” The production flow, as you were terming it in terms of Tesla. How can I do that?
That’s where I see that Stratasys and 3D Systems can go through stage one and stage two, but they will never be the choice for stage three. They’re not innovating there. They’re not at that level. That’s what Blake has built here, and from Essentium’s model to me, it makes it possible. FormAlloy made it possible. I could see that if that was your metal model. I’m seeing that come together. We have an experienced desktop metal and some of the other ones that have come out there who claimed to be that model as well. I’m still not feeling it from the things that I’ve been reading and seeing about them. It’s still just modifications and lower cost to making machines.
The metal processes while using a Cartesian and layered approach are definitely doing things differently than what the desktop 3D printing industry was born out of to the nanomaterial level. I do think they are doing some different things. What I don’t see is though that they’re integrating themselves into this manufacturing system with which they want to be a part of. They need to be a part of to be at scale, to sell thousands of machines, not hundreds and that’s the difference right there. I look at that and I said, “I have a totally different viewpoint now and that’s what I love about our show.”
After that many episodes, what excites me is there are still new discoveries, new developments, new companies to talk to, new things to bring our audience. I like that we continue to be bouncing back and forth between subjects that are at the grassroots level that people listening who are educators or students or people in business like we are can use every day in what their journey is in 3D printing and then we also have the good fortune to be able to interview people like this that are sharing with us and our listeners where the cutting edge is. I am super excited to see where this goes. This is a definite. We need a six-month, maybe a nine-month follow up on this one. I want to go see it.
I hope you all enjoyed this episode as much as we did. I know this is probably a little longer than we usually go on our conclusion and discussion, but I’m pretty excited. Leave us a comment. Let us know what you think and you can also reach out and communicate with us and see things that we post regarding this on social media. You want to follow us there @3DStartPoint. Thanks again. This has been Tracy and Tom on the WTFFF 3D Printing Podcast.
About Blake Teipel
Blake is President and co-Founder of Essentium, an extrusion-additive manufacturing company changing the way things are made in the materials, machine and process spaces. Essentium was awarded the SME Innovation Grand Prize in 2016 for novel electromagnetic welding technology which makes extrusion-printed parts stronger and more uniform in Z. Blake is also co-Founder of TriFusion Devices, an extrusion additive biomedical device company. TriFusion has printed and shipped over 800 bespoke medical devices all over North America and was awarded the TCT-Rapid Healthcare Application Award for 2017.
Blake holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Texas A&M University, with a research focus in polymeric nanocomposites. He holds awarded and pending patents and has authored multiple peer-reviewed journal articles. A native of central Colorado, Blake enjoys watching Aggie sports, traveling with his family, woodworking, mountain biking, golf and is an avid skier.
- Essentium 3D
- High Speed Extrusion Platform
- Flashfuse Technology
- TriFusion Devices
- Local Motors
- Steve Gall – previous episode
- Lucy Beard – previous episode
- Melanie Lang – previous episode
- 3D Systems
- @3DStartPoint – Facebook
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