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Seurat Aims to Disrupt Metal 3D Printing with 2 Million Lasers

Inkbit

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3D printing company Seurat is named after pointillist painter Seurat because, like him, the company wants to work pixel by pixel. Rather than trace a laser over the whole build, they want to illuminate and heat every pixel of that layer at once for faster results.

Seurat’s production technology is termed Area Printing and uses what it calls Optically Addressed Light Valves (OLAVs). “Every pixel in the OALV defined its own laser spot, effectively creating a multitude of individual lasers out of one very powerful laser” that projects  “laser light down to a bed of metal powder, weld a patterned area in an instant, and build a multi-layer part.” If you put it like that, it sounds a hell of a lot more like Mondriaan, right?

By illuminating an entire print bed layer at one time, Seurat misses the point that the machines spend 60% of their time recoating, but this is a hugely exciting development none the less. By reducing the scan time of the laser, builds can be processed significantly faster, like high speed sintering (HSS) for polymers and other diode and array laser projects underway.

Seurat’s approach is a fundamental challenge to the existences of existing powder bed fusion (PBF) companies. EOS has been working on a similar technology since at least 2013, but no one knows when or if they’ll pull it off. Their VCSEL approach could give similar results. If we contrast the multi-laser approaches to Seurat’s, however, the latter will be significantly cheaper to implement with less complexity and higher speeds.

Seurat now has $33 million to implement this technology which doesn’t seem much given the challenges in commercializing OALV and the system itself for metal printing. The company first printed metal parts in 2015 and has now just come out of stealth mode. Presumably Desktop Metal’s stock moves, the proposed SPAC of Markforged, and the resulting interest in ExOne and voxeljet makes now a very opportune time for a metal 3D printing firm to be looking for money.

Its too early to tell if Seurat will be able to commercialize its technology successfully. It is very difficult to go from a technology to a manufacturing machine that works well in an industrial setting. Velo3D has managed to do this but it is far from facile. Co-founder and CEO James DeMuth developed the technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and worked with Erik Toomre who was at Tesla, Volkswagen and Sun to develop the firm. The Chief Scientific Officer Andy Bayramian worked at Lawrence Livermore for over 24 years as a physicist and has coauthored a bunch of papers that melt my brain on lasers and much more besides. The VP of Engineering led four companies to IPO. Partners include Denso, Porsche, GM, and Siemens with Porsche and GM having invested in the firm as well. There is a lot of pedigree and promise in this firm.

Their promises will also fundamentally change our industry if they can be realized. The company points to “precise laser energy control in time and space provides complete quality control” and “by melting cleanly, typical part size limits will be overcome”. At the same time, Seurat asserts that, “accuracy and surface finish combine to enable true net-shape processing.” The company hopes to achieve a lot of significant sea change-type performance enhancements for the technology simultaneously. If they do it, we will be a lot closer to 3D printing cost-effective parts for industry and a lot of other companies will be dead in the water. That is a big “if”, though.

The technology is actually more of a Seurat-meets-Jackson-Pollock. Sad that they didn’t go for JacksonAt or SeurOllock. I’m glad that they didn’t pick the other pointillist, Pissarro, since that would be difficult for everyone to spell and you’d have to explain all the time that, ‘yes they’re ambitious’ but not conquistador-ambitious. Henri Delavallée is probably also out, due to spelling as well. Many would google “Del valley” and end up at a home inspections company by mistake.

Although I personally love Theo van Rysselberghe, I could imagine that name would also be suboptimal as a catchy startup brand. Think of their poor receptionist. Toorop sounds very cool, and I can not fathom why they didn’t choose that. I’m positively miffed that they didn’t choose Hippolyte Petitjean who is, although undeservedly, much less known, and has one of my favorite names ever. I could only imagine the dismay as this American company was turned down by the still-living American pointillist Chuck Close, who perhaps has the best name in all of painting.

I think Signac would be a nice alternative, perhaps something to think of if you’d like to compete with Seurat. It would be much nicer to have a bevy of impressionists define our industry than the rather macho tech-heavy names we have now.

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