Made in the Northwest: Continuous Composites
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Its goal is to revolutionize the manufacturing industry with continuous fiber 3D printing, which uses robotics to print in free space.
“It completely changes the way you can use composite materials,” said Continuous Composites CEO Tyler Alvarado.
And this groundbreaking technology is being developed at the company’s facility in Coeur d’Alene, just a block up from the lake on E. Lakeside Ave.
In 2012, inventor Ken Tyler realized no one else was 3D printing with composite materials and started applying for patents to protect his revolutionary technology.
“We have some eleven granted patents, 90 non-provisional patent applications around the technology,” said Alvarado. “We have another 250 concepts covered provisionally.”
Alvarado says the company’s technology combines the strength of high grade composite materials with 3D printing using robotics.
“So we take a low cost, dry fiber, we impregnate it in the print head with a rapid curing, thermoset resin and then we cure it right at the point of discharge, so it allows our material to hold its shape in free space,” he explained. “So we’re no longer limited to stacking material over a mold.”
But despite keeping an intentionally low profile, Alvarado says it didn’t take long for massive companies to learn about Continuous Composites and seek them out.
“In the aerospace sector, it’s Boeing and Airbus. There’s the D.O.D. (Department of Defense) side, so Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. The U.S. Air Force. There’s applications in energy, like Siemens.”
And the reason those companies are seeking out Continuous Composites is simple. It’s manufacturing process is automated, so there’s no manual labor. There’s also no capital equipment costs and no wasted material, making the manufacturing process expontentially cheaper.
“The cost of our technology is about $25 per pound to manufacture one pound of a finished composite part,” said Alvarado. “And it’s not uncommon for the aerospace sector to be up to $6,000 per pound to manufacture one pound of the composite part.”
And the applications are endless. Alvarado uses an airplane wing made with continuous fiber 3D printing as an example.
“So being able to imbed heat into composite structures, like an airplane wing for anti-ice, so the plane’s no longer sitting on a tarmac, having to be de-iced.”
Continuous Composites currently has about 25 employees, but expects that number to double by this time next year. Its campus is also expanding, after buying the building behind it.
The company’s vision is to one day have dozens of robots on mounted tracks, printing on a much larger scale.
“Being able to print an entire car in the work cell or being able to print a small airplane or a boat,” envisions Alvarado. “So that’s what we’re working on right now.”
And with its groundbreaking technology, and interest from massive companies, it could happen sooner rather than later.
“It’s exciting to be a part of and we all feel very blessed to have this opportunity.”
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