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By Rose Ragsdale
For Metal Tech News 

Innovator touts new 3D printing tech

Aims to revolutionize manufacture of large metal products Metal Tech News – January 26, 2022

 

Last updated 2/1/2022 at 2:58pm

Seurat Technologies 3D metal printing additive manufacturing sintering

Seurat Technologies

A geometrically complex heat sink 3D printed from stainless steel using Seurat Technologies' area printing technique.

A high-tech company, Seurat Technologies, intends to make the most of its innovation in the emerging world of metal 3D printing and in the process, revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are manufactured.

The Wilmington, Mass.-based startup is touting its new process as the key to not only cutting the costs of mass manufacturing but also dramatically reducing the sector's carbon footprint.

A new industry

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, got its start in industry in the late 1980s when Carl Deckard, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Texas, developed the first laser sintering 3D printer and successfully made small plastic parts and prototypes.

This invention paved the way for metal 3D printing. In 1991, Ely Sachs, Ph.D. of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, introduced a 3D printing process that is better known today as binder jetting. ExOne, which licensed the binder jetting process in 1995, has delivered more than 2 million 3D printed metal parts to customers worldwide.

The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany filed the first patent of laser melting of metals in 1995.

During the early 21st century, the use of metal 3D printing grew slowly but steadily. This changed after 2012 when the original patents for the technology started to expire, and companies such as General Electric, Hewlett Packard, and Desktop Metal entered the sector.

Today, metal 3D printing is estimated to be a $720 million market that is growing rapidly, according to Wohlers Report. In 2017 alone, sales of metal 3D printers increased by 80%.

A major challenge

But the sector still faces major challenges centering on ways to make items like large automobile parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Currently, the limitations of 3D metal printing can outweigh the benefits of the technology, according to experts. The limitations include higher costs than traditional manufacturing, limited economies of scale, a unique set of design rules and the nearly universal need for post-processing.

Experts, however, also acknowledge the important benefits the technology brings to the table, including geometric complexity at no extra cost, optimized lightweight structures, increased part functionality, various assemblies merged into a single part, simpler manufacturing supply chains and excellent material properties.

A needed breakthrough?

Seurat Technologies says its process, using a powerful laser technique, could be the breakthrough the industry needs. The technology is based on 130 patents, which have been approved or are pending approval.

If the company's method can be implemented on a large scale, fragile U.S. supply chains could be re-imagined using low-cost "print depots" to manufacture parts domestically, at high volume, where and when they are needed.

Metal 3D printing works by shining a laser onto a thin layer of metal powder, melting it, and welding it to the layer below. A digital design gradually takes shape as the metal layers accumulate and the object emerges.

It is an extremely slow process, however. Even with multiple lasers, the process of 3D metal printing has not accelerated fast enough to produce auto parts and consumer electronics in high numbers.

The technology from Seurat - named for the painter Georges Seurat, who studied the science of light and pioneered the painting style known as pointillism - speeds up the process by splitting a single, high-powered laser beam into as many as 2.3 million beams of light.

A 30-kilowatt laser is patterned with high-resolution images that can be programmed to block or let light through each of its pixels.

Every pixel defines its own laser spot, so the system can weld a large area of metal powder in an instant, allowing a multi-layered object to take shape 10 times faster than current 3D printing technology.

"And it's not even the beginning of what we can do," Seurat CEO and co-founder James DeMuth told a reporter recently.

Seurat's technology is to 3D printing what the printing press was to pen and paper, he observed.

Birth of an idea

The idea of pixelating a laser beam can be traced to the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California more than a decade ago, according to DeMuth.

He and other researchers were working on a different challenge – energy fusion – but the challenge was to design a reaction chamber that could withstand the extreme temperature swings that happen when lasers are used to produce energy.

After much trial and error, they adapted a patterned light method that was already in development at Livermore Labs for other purposes.

By 2015, DeMuth and Erik Toomre - another co-founder of Seurat - had proved that the technology would work for metal 3D printing, too. So, the company licensed the technology from Livermore Labs in 2016.

A greener approach

3D printing has often been considered a green manufacturing method, given that it reduces material waste and can create lightweight parts.

Seurat says its area printing technique has the potential to magnify all of these "green" benefits by focusing on high-volume production.

U.S. manufacturing accounts for nearly a quarter (23%) of the country's direct carbon emissions, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In Europe, manufacturing emits an annual total of 880 million short tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, making it one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases on the continent.

"By migrating such a high volume of parts production from metal castings to area printing, Seurat will be able to positively impact our global net-zero journey," the company wrote on its website.

Seurat says its process is currently 10 times faster than incumbent 3D metal printing and is on track to become 100 times faster by 2025.

The company estimates its technology will displace 0.15 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2025 and 2.5 GT by 2030, when all manufacturing production slots are filled in its "APP Program."

James DeMuth Xerox SIP True Ventures Porsche Siemens partners large-scale

James DeMuth

"To put this in perspective, displacing 0.15 GT of CO2 is equivalent to charging 16.6 trillion smart phones; burning 15.4 billion pounds of coal, or consuming 15.3 billion gallons of gasoline, the company estimates.

A path forward

Seurat said it has lined up deals with seven of the world's largest automotive, aerospace, energy, and industrial companies to begin commercializing the technology this year.

So far, the company has raised US$78 million, including a US$21 million Series B round extension announced Jan. 19.

Among its newest investors are Xerox Ventures and SIP Global Partners, which joined Capricorn's Technology Impact Fund, DENSO, True Ventures, GM Ventures, Porsche Automobil Holding SE, Siemens Energy, and Maniv Mobility.

 

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