In the second announcement, Stratasys has spun off its Selective Toner Electrophotographic Process (STEP) technology into a separate company, Evolve Additive Solutions, in a bid to bring this technology to market.
The STEP technology has been an incubation project for nearly 10 years. But Stratasys believes that it can form the basis of a high-speed and high-volume production additive manufacturing system. This might even be capable of producing parts at a cost, quality and throughput comparable to traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding.
Ironically, STEP seems to be a combination of old and new technology. At its heart is a toner-based electrophotographic printing process, which will be familiar to anyone that’s used a photocopier. This is used to produce the layers and Evolve has added its own proprietary IP to align those layers together plus sophisticated bonding techniques to create final parts that are said to have isotropic properties in X, Y and Z directions on par with injection molding.
Steve Chillscyzn, CEO of Evolve Additive Solutions and co-inventor of STEP, commented: “We believe the STEP Technology is uniquely positioned to bridge the gap in the market not yet addressed by additive or traditional manufacturing technologies.” He added: “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.”
The great promise is that this process will produce engineering-grade thermoplastic materials – both amorphous and semi-crystalline – with costs and surface quality comparable to traditional manufacturing at 50x faster than existing additive manufacturing solutions. The process is also said to allow multiple materials to be printed within the same layer, and to support full colour printing, including spot and process colours.
For now, Evolve is at the alpha stage and is trying to raise initial purchase orders amongst automotive, consumer goods and aerospace companies. The plan is to move to the beta stage over the next 12 months where Evolve will look for customers to test its system in volume production environments across many vertical markets. Naturally there’s no date for when these systems will be generally available.
Stratasys will continue to hold an equity stake in Evolve. Ilan Levin, CEO of Stratasys, commented: “As an independent company, Evolve will best be able to focus on the advancement of the technology, provide the entrepreneurial environment and management equity incentives suitable for early stage efforts and drive the customer relationships and partnerships to foster further development and initial market adoption.”
Anyone interested in signing up to the beta test program should visit the evolve additive.com website.