3D printing is a rapidly growing industry and one in which the possibilities of what can be printed seemingly expand every day. Columbus-based Sculptify is upping the ante with their pelletized material 3D printer.
“We started talking about how limiting the technology was and how powerful it could be,” says Co-Founder Slade Simpson of a conversation about the industry with fellow Co-Founder Todd Linthicum. When questioning how the technology could be applicable in more sectors, they came up with the idea of using pellets.
“Pretty much every plastic part out there in the world begins as raw pellets,” Simpson says. 3D printers are normally fed with a long string of plastic filament, but instead Sculptify’s printer, named David, is fed with pellets.
Using pellets produces a number of positive changes in the printing process. First, pellets greatly expand the number of materials that can be used for printing.
Most standard printer filaments are made from PLA and ABS plastics, producing rigid products. David can print with more flexible materials like EVA, which is typically used in shoes and sportswares, and PPU or PPE, the rubbery material used in shoe bottoms. The printer can also handle nylon, which is a generally all-purpose material, HDPE, which is what milk jugs are made of, and IDPE, the common material for containers and plastic bottles.
HDPE is particularly intriguing for Scultpify. “We’re excited that we can do it because it kind of opens the door to recycling,” Simpson says.
Sculptify is working on a recycler that would theoretically grind up waste into granules feed and them into the printer.
Pellets also open the door for composites mixing more than one type of plastic or plastics with some other type of filler. Sculptify is exploring wood composites, ceramic composites, carbon fiber composites and conductive composites.
“It allows us to use more materials because a lot of the materials don’t have to be optimized to fit onto a spool,” Simpson says, which is another important advantage of Sculptify’s process.
Pellets eliminate several steps in the manufacturing process.
This also takes a lot of cost out of the price of materials. Every cost associated with putting the material on the spool is eliminated.
“Since we are processing it less, there’s less contaminants…in the material itself,” Simpson says. Customers are ultimately getting a higher-quality material for less money.
Now that the technology is developed, “There’s a lot of different directions it can go,” Simpson says. “Its grown into something we really think could change the industry.”
Simpson sees applications in education, pharmaceuticals, engineering, architecture and even footwear.
“We’ve had a lot of footwear companies contact us because we offer a lot of flexible materials and nobody else does,” Simpson says.
Sculptify has created several physical and virtual models of David and is now ready for mass production, prompting them to crowdfund on Kickstarter.
The company is ready to take their operations out of a Columbus basement and into a local manufacturing facility.
“We’re looking at a facility in Columbus right now,” Simpson says. “We want to keep the engineering and assembly in Ohio.”
The strong 3D printing and technology communities in Columbus make the city a good fit as well.
“We’re hoping to grow quickly and offer a lot of jobs to a region that really needs it,” Simpson says.
Access to capital has been their biggest challenge so far.
“We have a lot of big ideas and it’s hard to implement them without resources,” Simpson says. In addition to the Kickstarter, Sculptify is seeking seed and Series A funding.
Despite funding challenges, Simpson says, “People are very excited about what we’re doing.” They’ve seen an uptick and we traffic along with a lot of great feedback from businesses.
For more information, visit sculptify.com.