Seurat, the startup that wants to commercialize its highly productive metal 3D printing technology, wants to go green. The company has developed a diode laser manufacturing process, dubbed Area Printing, that uses optical addressable light valves to scan and print an entire layer of metal powder bed in a single go. However, Seurat is not aiming to become an OEM that sells 3D printers. Instead of this the firm aims to use its 3D printing technology to power its own manufacturing sites that will sell parts to clients.
The company suggests that by launching its own series of manufacturing “depots”, it can have an impact on manufacturing emissions. Located in Wilmington, Massachusetts, 10 miles from the Lowell mills that initiated the Industrial Revolution in the U.S., the first depot will be powered by wind and solar energy through delivered the Reading Municipal Light Department’s new Renewable Choice program.
The company mentions that, “22% of all carbon emissions in the U.S” are related to manufacturing. While the first depot in Wilmington is described as 100% green, Seurat also “aspires” for future locations to follow suit. Seurat CEO James DeMuth then takes aim at ¨conventional casting, which represents about 20 percent of the $1 trillion worldwide metal part manufacturing market. Casting uses natural gas and coke in the process, which in turn produces significant emissions.
“Our current projected carbon offsets — up to 60Mt CO2yr savings with our first-generation system, and ~2Gt/year savings by 2030 as customers ramp up production and replace designs previously manufactured through casting — are an incredible starting point. To put this in perspective, displacing 60Mt of CO2 is equivalent to 6B gallons of gasoline consumed. We are working on verifying our projections following ISO 14064 guidance, an international standard that addresses the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions, and we’re excited to exponentially increase our positive impact going forward,” DeMuth stated.
“We’re excited to provide our customers with the opportunity to power their homes and businesses with 100% renewable/non-carbon energy through our voluntary Renewable Choice program. Renewable Choice is a great option for customers who wish to support additional renewable energy resources above and beyond RMLD’s annual non-carbon energy targets,” said Gregory Phipps, Director of Integrated Resources at the Reading Municipal Light Department..
Seurat will already need a significant amount to commercialize its optical light valve technology and the printers. The firm’s approach also means that it will need a lot of capital to set up operations. In this way, it will need slightly more cash to capture more of the value that the technology creates. If it then grows its sites to capacity, it can expand them to capacity bit by bit before creating adjacent sites, spreading them around the world. Ideally this would allow the company to deploy at scale with a vertically-integrated model that could be capital intensive but highly profitable with a continually filled order book.
Service bureau productivity and profitability has been problematic, so CAPEX could perhaps change the fundamental economics of a service bureau. Increased investment in depowdering technologies and the elimination of manual labor could, if implemented well, alter the fundamentally challenged economics of 3D printing services. However, there would still be additional automation, part recognition, resurfacing, and finishing challenges to solve. If the company manages to commercialize its technology in a way that radically competes with other manufacturing firms, disrupting the market, then it will grow very rapidly indeed.
It’s still a big if. Suerat is interesting but for a long-haul victory, a lot of heavy lifting and candlepower will be needed to make it happen. From a marketing, go-to-market and business model perspective, what the firm is doing is very remarkable indeed. It’s something that I think will interest investors, proven by the fact that the firm has received over $79 million thus far from the likes of Porsche, Xerox, and GM. But, it remains to be seen what manufacturing firms and for what parts this will be an ideal solution.
If workers are pitching parts over a wall and Seurat can be very competitive with traditional process, then it will find traction. If engineers have to redesign and qualify parts for Seurat, then they will be afraid of being completely locked into a technology and vendor and may balk at this prospect. For high-value components, a business is highly dependent on the part and, therefore, willing to pay for it to be perfect. However, the business want redundancy in suppliers. This doesn’t work if all of the IP and machines are owned by the same firm. For commodity or less critical items, a customer will probably care less, but will also not want to pay much for them either. If Seurat manages to find a great customer group then this model will be vindicated. If not, it will delay market entry and roll out unnecessarily.
There can be decided advantages of doing it all yourself though. No pesky clients or service calls and you can quickly implement technological advances. You lengthen the time for return, but, once you are operational, you have a very quick turnaround between getting cash, delivering parts and being ready for more cash. Operational improvements and things like OE improvements will be extremely important to Seurat because of the effects that these will have on cashflow and profitability. This will mean that the company has to and will out-invest to obtain the best people and advances in metal printing operations, since the impact of these will be so immediate and powerful for the firm. Given that operational experience in metal AM, especially in the U.S., is few and far between, this could be a path to sustained growth for the firm, if it retains top talent and out performs others in excellence.
There are also decided advantages to making your own 3D printers exclusively for your own service bureau locations, “depots” in Seurat-speak. If the firm is versatile, any changes in policies and operations can be implemented quickly for the entire technology. In this case, for example, Seurat is announcing that its technology and its first depot will be 100% green energy powered. This is something that would be much harder for EOS to do, given that firm’s installed base.
The company reiterated the scale of its sustainability ambitions, saying:
¨Think about the silverware you eat meals with — those knives and forks are manufactured at $35/kilogram overseas. By 2030, we hope to make it more affordable to manufacture silverware via Area Printing in the U.S. than it would be to forge via carbon-emitting processes overseas.¨
Seurat´s decarbonized manufacturing pledge is very opportune to say the least, given the geopolitical fallout of Russia’s energy politics and illegal invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, many people the world over are worried about climate change. Still others fret about the ability to grow the economy. By marrying economic growth in the form of its new technology and decarbonization the firm would be considered manna from heaven. For the U.S., this is a glimpse of a cutting-edge manufacturing revolution paired with less dependence on unsavory foreign leaders. This is a side of green energy future with a helping of good ol’ “Made in USA:, plus manufacturing independence from foreigners as a cherry on top. Hear that thump? Your lobbyist just fainted and that was the sound of his empty head hitting the floor.
As I’ve discussed before, the current Russian invasion is set to make every nation more independent. Many firms and governments will turn to 3D printing to be resilient, so they can make military and other key kit entirely on their own without being susceptible to embargoes. A fractious world will be a boon for 3D printing, as our technology will give nations independence and resilience. This is true for the good guys, as well as the bad. Seurat is right to pounce on this opportunity and give itself a path towards a green, made-in-America revolution.
Seurat is not talking about aerospace parts here. It wants to go after bulk manufacturing processes and relatively low-cost goods that are now made very far away from clients. If the company could do this, then manufacturers would run far less fashion risk than their competitors. They wouldn’t have to order forks months in advance and predict how many would be sold of each type in Germany, Denmark, and Italy. Instead, they could quickly resupply on demand and reduce the fashion risk of not having enough or ordering too much of something that doesn’t sell. This would indeed be a revolution. Even though they’re in Massachusetts, can DeMuth and his team pull it off?
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