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 test and produce products at highly increased rates with greatly reduced costs. However, no technologies today are capable of providing a cost-effective solution to creating both small and large volumes of components. This means manufacturers must invest in a large variety of equipment which each address a small fragment of the manufacturing process chain to produce their products.
Ascend Manufacturing designs and fabricates industrial additive manufacturing equipment. 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, 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, additive manufacturing) or large (injection molding) 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 low to medium volume production runs and since it is an additive technology, making complex shapes does not increase the fabrication time or cost. These systems fulfill the need of a large range of equipment and address a gap that exists between economically making small to large volumes of 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 cost and time deadline. 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 can 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. 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 pieces 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.
The total addressable market includes all components manufactured in the US, which is a $2.18 trillion dollar market today. Narrowing this down to the current serviceable available market include plastic components created in the US and is a $93 billion dollar market. The serviceable obtainable market is somewhere in the billions to tens of billions of dollars and includes additive manufacturing machine sales for plastic components (over $529 million today) plus new customers in the mass production market.
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 changing the build time, increasing machine throughput.
Previous studies at the University of South Florida have provided initial results to begin designing and building a new prototype 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 and industrial controls that will be required in a manufacturing environment. Once this study is complete, the system will be upgraded to a size relevant to the manufacturing industry. This system will be used in pilot studies with the manufacturing industry to gain feedback and perfect the design before production.
The Innovation Crossroads team is providing expert business advice and networking opportunities. They are assisting with the development of a successful business model and are introducing us to many potential customers, partners and funding sources. Through the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, we have access to the world’s leading scientists in additive manufacturing for assistance in polymer science and machine design as well as providing access to state-of-the-art testing and evaluation equipment.