US DoE Awards $3M to Fortify and polySpectra for 3D Printed Tooling

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The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced 30 projects that have been selected to receive a total of $57.9 million in grants from the Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO). Among the recipients were Fortify and polySpectra: the two additive manufacturing (AM) firms received $3 million, for a joint project to develop tooling used for the automotive sector.

Image courtesy of polySpectra

Several other entities — National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), MPI Systems, RePliForm Inc., and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) — are involved in the project as well, and thus will also benefit from the funding. Specifically, the money goes toward the development of solutions for lightweighting automotive tooling, using Cyclic Olefin Resin-based composites. Cyclic Olefin Resin (COR) is polySpectra’s proprietary, printable version of cycloolefin copolymer (COC).

Image courtesy of Fortify

Compared to other polymers, COC has come into widespread use fairly recently. Its increasing popularity in commercial applications over the last couple of decades is thanks to its translucence and durability, making it optimal for use in the production of anything with a screen. Along with polySpectra’s COR, the participating companies will be using Fortify’s unique magnet-driven, DLP series of printers, FLUX.

In a press release, the principal investigator for the award, polySpectra’s founder, Raymond Weitekamp, commented, “Olefin-based thermoset composites have been used for many decades in extremely demanding applications such as wind turbine blades and fuel cell components, because they are among the most durable materials on the planet. Under this research grant, we will leverage Nobel-winning chemistry to directly 3D-print [COR]. The goal of the DOE project is to bring unprecedented materials durability to [AM], which will provide the industry with immense leverage for the decarbonization and reshoring of the US manufacturing sector.”

Additionally, the grant money will be used to help bring more individuals from underrepresented groups into the industry, by way of training and recruitment programs. This is at least the second AM project in the last couple of weeks to mention this same objective.

Image courtesy of polySpectra

Although the initial R&D will focus on automotive parts, it is of course likely that, should the effort succeed, COR will start to be used in more applications. This is especially likely, considering the steadily growing interest in AM applications for electronics. As part of a larger AM carbon strategy, the potential to print screens close to the point of sale could be a huge asset in lowering the emissions created by the global production of consumer goods.

Finally, it’s worth emphasizing the amount of money pouring into the AM sector lately from the DOE, in particular. To be sure, the US government has long been one of the principal funders of AM. Nevertheless, there’s something at least symbolically momentous, about the fact that the energy-use considerations are overtly starting to factor into more and more projects.

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