The manufacturing industry in the US today is a massive $2.3 trillion dollars. Manufacturing provides the backbone to our nation in which all other industries benefit from and rely on. As our manufacturing capabilities are improved, our nation can provide faster, cheaper and higher quality parts/services while achieving economic competitiveness to keep manufacturing and all of its jobs at home. One such technology which is driving this charge is additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing). Additive manufacturing allows small businesses and large corporate companies to bring new devices to market at drastically reduces costs and time scales due to the rapid nature of prototyping with additive manufacturing. Many times, additive manufacturing can decrease prototyping costs and timelines by over 90% over traditional methods. The nation is moving towards the fourth industrial revolution where components are created on-site when they are needed, completely eliminating shipping costs and emissions, and reducing the cost and complexities of warehousing large inventories. While current additive manufacturing technologies can address this issue due to their ability to create components without molds, none have the production speed or quality to satisfy this need.
Ascend Manufacturing designs and fabricates novel industrial additive manufacturing equipment born out of industrial need. Our new technology is the first technology to truly enable agile manufacturing industry 4.0 which perfectly supplements existing manufacturing technologies. The new technology used in these systems, developed by the founder through collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of South Florida, are able to provide components for prototyping or production in low to high volumes, with superior mechanical performance and with exotic materials. The goal is to supplement conventional manufacturing technologies (such as machining, injection molding, thermoforming, etc) with the ability to economically and quickly create components and quantities, previously out of reach of these manufacturing technologies. Furthermore, this can be achieved on-the-fly with no tooling costs or lead times, the ability to create complex structures without any trade-offs (increased fabrication time or added cost) while also providing superior components and the capability to provide mass customization where every part can be individually customized.
In manufacturing today, no economical technologies exist that allow components to be creating in small and large volumes with the same equipment at an economical price. Generally, the part quantity, size and geometry dictate what type of technologies are required to make a part. Most technologies focus on creating either small (machining, laser cutting, additive manufacturing) or large (injection molding, thermoforming, etc) volumes of components. This requirement forces manufacturers to purchase and operate a large variety of industrial equipment. Additionally, conventional additive manufacturing systems are well known to have low throughput speeds when compared to mass manufacturing technologies and struggle to meet quality assurance guidelines. This has restricted its use to prototyping and low volume production runs.
The systems provided by Ascend Manufacturing are capable of creating single components to hundreds of thousands, each day, from every machine. Since we utilize an additive technology, making complex shapes does not increase the fabrication time or cost. These systems fulfill the needs of a large range of manufacturing requirements and addresses a gap that exists between economically and rapidly creating large volumes of high-quality components. Furthermore, the components created with this system have superior mechanical performance when compared to other powder bed technologies and can use a larger variety of materials.
By using conventional methods, the time and cost to bring a product to market is highly based on the turn-around time between product iterations and the time it takes to manufacture prototypes. This also limits the number of iterations possible within a specified budget and schedule. By using our technology, innovation costs can be decreased due to the rapid creation and iteration times for prototypes. This leads to a vastly decreased time to market but also while providing a higher quality end part, due to additional improvements through the iteration process. Additionally, by using the same process and material in prototypes and production, some qualification processes can be eliminated, further reducing the cost and time to market.
Competing technologies include injection molding, machining and other additive manufacturing systems capable of higher volume production. Injection molding and other high-volume technologies create components with impressive properties (surface detail, strength, etc), at extremely high production rates and low cost per part. However, the molds are very expensive, take a long time to create and cannot easily be modified. The required large initial investment means this technology is only economical for high volume production, typically in the millions to hundreds of millions.
Machining is also capable of creating components with high surface detail and strength, but machining can only create one component at a time and produces lots of waste as components are subtractively manufactured from larger chunks of material. Machining is only economical to produce one-off or low volumes of components due to its relatively slow fabrication speeds. Both machining and molding are limited in the geometries they can create and become more expensive and time consuming as the complexity of the part to be made increases. When using additive manufacturing, there is no large initial investment, increased component complexity doesn’t increase production time or cost and isn’t considered a wasteful process.
In order for a technology to be suitable for production, it must be able to create parts at a reasonable cost per part, with a variety of materials, with a high degree of quality assurance, high repeatability and with sufficient mechanical properties. Most technologies focus on solving only one of these issues but there are no technologies which exist capable of solving all of these issues simultaneously. Our closest competitors are only capable of creating quality parts with a single material, at modest volumes and with primitive or no quality control/assurance measures.
Ascend Manufacturing is an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of additive manufacturing systems, a reseller of thermoplastic powdered feedstocks, upholds annually reoccurring service contracts and sells development packages. The size of this market is estimated to be a minimum of $5B increasing fairly regularly by 25-30% each year.
The key innovation provided by Ascend Manufacturing is the ability to create entire layers simultaneously rather than by rastering a lamp or laser over the build surface. This ability allows us to scale to larger sizes without largely impacting fabrication, drastically increasing machine throughput. In addition, the thermal and optical cameras which control this process, are capable of providing the data required for a closed-loop sintering process where each part created is highly identical and defect free. Post build quality analysis reports are provided with each part which can be used for certification purposes.
Previous studies at the University of South Florida have provided initial results to begin designing and building our first pilot system. This system will be evaluated at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where machine design support and materials testing will assist in providing a high impact product when brought to market. This system will be used to evaluate material properties, further validate production rates and produce parts for industrial applications which will provide feedback to be incorporated into the production model.
Dr. Justin Nussbaum – Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Dr. Nathan Crane – Professor, University of South Florida and Brigham Young University
Dr. Amy Elliott – Manufacturing Systems Research R&D Staff, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Vlastimil Kunc – Manufacturing Science Group Leader, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Brian Post – Manufacturing Systems Research R&D Staff, Oak Ridge National Laboratory