There’s no mistaking the fact that we’ve entered a new phase of 3D printing investment, with four companies in 2021 already announcing plans to go public and numerous startups receiving significant levels of funding. One of the most recent is Idaho-based Continuous Composites, which has partnered with the venture arm of French multinational manufacturer Saint-Gobain, called NOVA.
The exact level of investment from NOVA was not disclosed, but it is significant enough that the two companies executed a joint development agreement to commercialize Continuous Composites’ patented Continuous Fiber 3D Printing (CF3D) technology. Continuous Composites is one of a handful of 3D printing firms that is tackling composite materials, such as carbon fiber, bringing much-sought-after automation to the typically labor-intensive work for composite layup.
There are several startups that extrude continuous fiber composites impregnated with polymers alongside or within melted thermoplastics. However, there are fewer relying on photopolymer printing technologies the way that Continuous Composites does. CF3D relies on feeding a roll of dry fiber into a printhead attached to a seven-axis industrial robot, where it is impregnated with a rapid-curing resin. As the material is pulled through the end effector, it is cured instantly with a high-intensity energy source.
The use of a seven-axis arm makes it possible to lay the material in any direction, optimizing the orientation of the reinforcement fibers depending on what’s best for a given design. At the same time, it allows for the technology to avoid the Z-axis weakness associated with many 3D printing processes. Additionally, the robotic arm can be integrated into existing manufacturing workflows.
It’s no surprise then that a manufacturing company as established as Saint-Gobain would be interested in Continuous Composites, which already has funding from the likes of Arkema. Founded in 1665, Saint-Gobain (SGO.PA) is one of the oldest companies in the world and earns roughly $40 billion annually. Though it began as a mirror maker, it is now dedicated to construction and materials.
“Saint-Gobain recognizes the incredible opportunity and the potential of Continuous Composites’ CF3D® technology,” says Minas Apelian, Vice President of Internal and External Venturing, Saint-Gobain. “This partnership will bring innovative solutions to our customers and we are excited to take this strategic step with the Continuous Composites team.”
This isn’t the first 3D printing company that the French giant has thrown money behind. Saint-Gobain has also invested in Inkbit and has become involved in additive construction, partnering with XtreeE and BAM Infra. It has even taken part in some research dedicated to improving the quality of fused deposition modeling. Now, composite 3D printing is getting a significant boost from the company.
“The investment by Saint-Gobain allows our team access to an extensive pool of resources and expertise across their eight research centers worldwide,” says Tyler Alvarado, Continuous Composites CEO. “We are proud to be a portfolio company of NOVA by Saint-Gobain and together we are establishing CF3D® as a foundational technology in the AM 2.0 industry.”
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