Essentium, Inc. is one of the fastest developing startups in the fused filament fabrication (FFF) space, in that it is quickly rolling out advanced technology while also growing beyond the FFF space. At RAPID + TCT 2021 and on the heels of its acquisition of Collider, the company showcased the latest addition to its high speed extrusion (HSE) line, the HSE 280i HT. To learn more about Essentium’s quick take off and stellar trajectory, we spoke to CEO Blake Teipel.
Founded in 2013 with an initial focus on materials and overcoming Z-axis weakness in FFF, Essentium got up and running quickly. With $22 million in investment from BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, and Materialise, the leading additive manufacturing (AM) service bureau and software provider, the firm presented to the world a high-temperature, high-speed FFF machine, the HSE 180 HT.
Teipel explained that the company still considers itself a materials-first technology, but that it needed to get into the machine making business because it couldn’t find original equipment manufacturers capable of delivering the quality necessary for Essentium’s materials. In turn, the firm developed a technology capable of achieving low-cost printing with a broad range of materials.
Though there are many companies now releasing high-temperature FFF systems, it was clear with the HSE 180 that Essentium’s was different, not just because it was advertised to be five to 15 times faster than the competition, but because you could tell that the company was trying to advance the technology in other ways beyond temperature and speed.
This was proven with the release of the HSE 280i HT. The new machine is an extension of Essentium’s existing 180 series, building upon the preceding HSE 180 HT with a new architecture capable of dual independent extruders. Unlike other machines that boast multiple, independent extruders, those on the 280i HT are truly separate. They don’t share the same X-axis, as is the case with others, but have fully independent travel nodes on both the X- and Y-axes. In turn, the machine can produce separate designs or potentially collaborate on a single, large print.
Generally, high temperature FFF machines enable the printing of performance plastics by heating the chamber. However, the HSE 280i HT uses a multimodal heating method, eliminating the need for the entire chamber to reach the necessary temperatures. This, along with the high speed of the machine itself, could double productivity compared other systems, according to the company.
Among the materials that the machine can print with is a new polyether ketone ketone (PEKK), to complement a polyether ether ketone (PEEK) that was already qualified for the HSE process, as well as the PEEK/PEKK cousin polyetherimide (PEI). Like PEEK and PEI, PEKK is an extremely tough, temperature and chemical resistant polymer that is popular in aerospace and medical applications. The decision to pursue Essentium PEKK, made with Arkema 6002 Kepstan, came from Essentium’s work with the U.S. Air Force, which wanted yet another flight-qualified material for flight-critical applications.
With high-speed, high-temperature FFF 3D printing now a reality, Teipel explained that the company aims to tackle other issues associated with 3D printing, as well—namely Z-axis weakness. In addition to slow speeds, FFF 3D printing is generally hindered by anisotropic physical properties, in which the Z-axis of the part doesn’t match the strength of the X- and Y-axes.
When Essentium launched in 2018, it touted the use of an electromagnetic energy system for melding the individual layers of a part to achieve near-complete fusion. This FlashFuse technology relied on the coupling of electromagnetic elements within Essenitum’s specialty materials, allowed for strong inter-layer adhesion. According to Teipel, this technology was initially put on the back burner so that the company could get to market more quickly.
“With FlashFuse, we can basically Joule heat the layer interfaces, which makes the layers bond well and the layer bonding gets very strong. We had basically paused some of the development on FlashFuse for about 12 to 15 months so that we could really focus our effort and attention on making sure that the base platform, the HSE 3D Printing Platform, was rock solid for the marketplace. Now that the base HSE technology has been market proven for about 24 months, we’re excited to introduce Flash Fuse in an upcoming iteration. We anticipate that coming out either the tail-end of this year or early part of next year.”
For a young company, it is interesting to note that it has already made an acquisition. Earlier this year, it purchased Collider. Despite the firm’s exciting technology, Collider had been experiencing financial issues in part associated with the pandemic. Previously referred to as programmable tooling, Collider’s digital light processing (DLP) technology involves 3D printing a high-resolution shell from a water-soluble resin before filling the printed mold with a specialty two-part epoxy material. The resin can then be rinsed away, revealing a solid part with properties comparable to those made with IM.
“What we’re able to do is continue to focus completely on factories and add a DLP-style photopolymer-based workflow that is also factory focused. This is not a DLP technology focused on consumer parts or dental or medical, or some of the other kind of classic DLP verticals. This is a DLP vertical that’s focused on tooling,” Teipel said. “You don’t need post-processing for the tool because you get that high-resolution finish directly from the printing process. You don’t need to then go and put it onto a CNC mill or treat it like a preform. That tool’s ready to go.”
In addition to being able to potentially use the myriad materials already available in IM, Collider’s process can also print with metals. Instead of injecting an epoxy material into the shell, a metal-infused slurry can be injected. The resulting green part can then be sintered in an oven to create a solid, metal component.
Teipel said that the market roll-out for Collider’s technology is still in the planning stage but wasn’t ready to make a specific announcement. Similarly, he couldn’t announce whether or not his firm is aiming to pursue a SPAC merger like many other exciting startups in the industry. However, in concluding our conversation, he certainly didn’t close the door on any possibilities, SPAC or otherwise, for the young startup.
“This year, 2021, we’re seeing the largest migration of capital, immigration of talent in the industry, and probably migration of technology as well since the industry’s inception. In the first half of the year alone, there was $11 billion in new capital that came into additive manufacturing. In the last full-growth year, 2019, you had a $15, maybe $20 billion industry. Then you’ve got $11 billion coming in just to fund growth. For a cluster of companies, this is an exciting time,” Teipel said. “So, Essentium is considering a variety of strategic growth opportunities and we’re keeping our ear to the ground, constantly looking for that growth opportunity that makes the most sense for us and for our customers.”
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