Evolve Additive’s “Selective Thermoplastic Electrophotographic Process,” or STEP for short came out of stealth mode last week. The samples produced by its alpha printer that I handled had very impressive detail.
With STEP another 2D printing technology migrates to 3D printing — electrophotographic printing, better known as EP or laser printing. EP technology is found inside many office printers.
Now let me state that, yes, there are 3D printer vendors who say their product is a new technology. While their offerings may be variations and advances on the seven ISO/ASTM technologies, their 3D printers fit the core definitions.
Evolve’s printing process begins by imaging a receptive drum which causes 22 micron plastic toner to adhere to it. The toner is transferred to an intermediary drum. The toner comprising the first layer of the 3D build is then transferred to a carrier sheet. The toner for subsequent layers is deposited on top of the previous layers. Each layer passes through a heating unit before the subsequent toner layer is laid down.
The first Evolve 3D printer will use a reciprocating carrier to move the pieces that are being printed under the imaging engines. One engine will be for the plastic (ABS or TPU at first) and one for the water-soluble support material. Eventually the Evolve will leverage all five of the engines inherent in the system in order to 3D print CMYK and clear plastics.
The second generation Evolve printer will have a continuous feed system that could move the parts to subsequent operations — or to an intermediary station where electronics or other components could be picked and placed on the partial build — after which the items return to the 3D printer for the additional layers needed to complete the build.
Evolve’s 3D printer is in alpha stage this year and expects to have beta devices in the market during 2019. The device could be priced in the $750,000 range.
source: Evolve Additive
The printer will print at the rate of 4.5 seconds per layer. Evolve estimates the fully-loaded cost of producing these plastic parts will be less than comparable injection molded parts when used to 3D print 5,000 to 15,000 pieces.
The samples that I saw were smooth except for a slight striation on vertical surfaces. The pieces held very small features extremely well. The parts were tests devised by a consumer products manufacturer, which I was told reported that it had never seen such high quality and precision from its injection molded parts.
Evolve prefers to use the term “toner” to describe its material, saying that “powder” implies laser or electron beam Powder Bed Fusion technology, which STEP is not. The toner used for supports is created with mechanical grinding and the imaging toner is chemically grown (the latter being a more precise process than the former).
Evolve grew out of Stratasys, which began working on the technology in 2009. Evolve’s principals convinced SSYS to spin off the company, which SSYS has shares of. While the formal separation took place last August, the final details were completed within the past three weeks. Evolve has engaged BNPP to support its efforts to line up additional investors.
Don’t expect to see Evolve Additive’s first commercially available 3D printers until late 2019. Rather, consider this new 3D printer technology as evidence of the continued R&D that will benefit the entire 3D printing community.
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