Origin launches Open Additive Production platform and announces BASF partnership

BASF will unveil new photopolymer materials at Formnext formulated on the Origin platform.
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A San Francisco-based start-up bringing to market its Open Additive Production platform consisting of ‘extensible software, modular hardware, and an extensive materials network’ has launched today.

Origin has announced, after three years of R&D and one year of the platform being in selected partners’ hands, it is now ready to welcome more collaborators and customers. The company has confirmed BASF as its first public strategic partner, with new photopolymer materials validated by Origin to be launched at Formnext next week, and revealed more than $12m in funding through a seed round and subsequent Series A round. An initial $2.3m was raised through Floodgate, Stanford University, Joe Montana, Tim O’Reilly (founder of O’Reilly Media), among others, while a further $10m has been secured in a round led by Jason Krikorian of DCM. Krikorian has also joined Floodgate’s Mike Maples Jr on Origin’s Board of Directors.

Origin believes its open approach to additive manufacturing is exactly what industrial manufacturers desire, noting that the AM sector has largely been dominated by closed systems, the materials constrained to a vendor’s own hardware and process. The Origin philosophy is to provide scalable hardware and software supplemented by an open materials network which will lean on leading chemical experts to expand the choice of materials available to manufacturers.

Coy on the platform’s production process intricacies, Origin co-founder and CEO, Chris Prucha says the system is photopolymer-compatible but one that ‘goes beyond the standard photopolymers you see with stereolithography to new types of thermosets and brand new chemistry.’

“While we’re compatible with materials that are designed that way, acrylates, polyurethanes, and epoxies, what you see in stereolithography, we’re also enabling new chemistries, [like] polyolefin and other ones that are not [yet] announced,” Prucha told TCT. “These types of chemistries require a very different print process, they require a very different environment, [and] very different controls to not just print but print reliably and at scale.

“Our modular hardware and our print process enable these types of chemistries which are mostly software changes. It’s a very software driven system and the core principle is to enable more and more chemistries to really create some of the best materials you’ll see in additive manufacturing.”

Components of the system are still being patented, while material development continues, which means, for now at least, details are scant. “We’re excited for you to see it when we do announce it,” Prucha reiterated.

The software has been built from the ground up – Prucha and Joel Ong, his fellow co-founder and CTO, are both software engineers with prior experience at Apple and Google respectively – and includes cloud-based and private deployment versions. It creates workflows for different vertical markets, the company recognising how manufacturing footwear is different to producing a validated automotive part; boasts a ‘dynamic interface’; and works to smooth out inconsistencies in light, energy and force to generate better repeatability. And while they believe the software is a powerful platform, the company is open to integration with other software companies, and already has partners on board – announcements again impending.

“We don’t want to compete with the industry, we want to grow the pie.”

On the materials side, Origin is bidding to create the broadest selection possible, working with its expert partners to bring elastomers with ‘better energy return’ than similar products and polymers with heat deflection above 220°C to market. BASF’s launches next week are ‘just the start’, with promises that the output from this open network will be ‘world class’. The participants in this network are among the companies to have Origin’s system installed. They have each been carrying out R&D and formulating materials on the machine’s process, tweaking and tuning them before being made commercially available.

Then there’s the hardware which will be introduced in the coming weeks and months. Origin believe its modularity makes it compatible with factories of the future which are becoming ever more reliant on automation, while also helping to sufficiently meet the varying levels of demand across verticals. The mid-level format of these units boasts a build volume of 192 x 108 x 330 mm, though there are as yet undisclosed product plans to be revealed in the future.

It all adds up to a platform Origin is confident can enable mass additive production, and do so without a compromise on time.

“As you elastically add more modules to the system, you print one part in five minutes, you print 20 parts on one module [the] print time will be roughly five minutes as well, and if you print that across multiple system modules it will [still] be five minutes,” he said. “You can crank out one part, 20 parts in one system, or 200 parts in that five minutes. That’s what we’re going for. I think that’s the only way to compete with injection moulding.”

Indeed, competing with injection moulding is a goal of the company’s. The parts to be showcased by BASF at Formnext will not just demonstrate the quality of the company’s material expertise, but Prucha suggests the texture ability of Origin’s platform, and ‘how it can rival and potentially surpass injection moulded quality parts without very much post-processing.’

Post-processing with Origin’s Open Additive Production platform is said to be done in bulk and very quickly. Similar to the build of parts, post-processing is scalable and can be done in minutes, whether it’s one part, 100, or 1,000. Additionally, all materials produced by its partners are, and will be, able to go through this rapid post-processing step. This, Origin thinks, is key for mass production and a big determining factor in the adoption of the AM in its target verticals.

Footwear tag produced with Origin's open additive production platform.

It’s these markets where Origin has already installed its Open Additive Production platforms, and where in the last year, tens of thousands of end use products to be manufactured with this system have been shipped to end use customers. They include the automotive space and footwear market, where in the former toughness, heat resistance, and lightweighting are important, and in the latter, resilience, durability, tear resistance, and customisation are most desired. Meanwhile, contract manufacturers and government institutions are also among the early adopters.

These companies have been aiding Origin in the development of the system before today’s commercial launch, which is a signal from the company to the manufacturing market that it is ready to do business and ready to collaborate.

“Customers who want to build lots of products can use our hardware, software, and materials,” offered Charlie Vestner, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Origin. “They can customise the way the products are designed, they can integrate the printing operation into their manufacturing flow so they have their control over the material, they get to work with several of our materials and our material providers directly, they can optimise the software to customise the print process, and they can optimise the hardware to integrate into their operation. That flexibility is what manufacturers are looking for when they are building to scale and what they get with more traditional equipment like injection moulding, but they have not gotten, until now really, with 3D printing and additive manufacturing.”

“This platform, by giving it to our material partners and other partners in the hardware and software states, allows them to produce a solution for customers, for example, producing better materials that can be validated and actually go into production,” Prucha explained. “It is not simple to produce some of these materials in some of these verticals that will actually need customer requirements both in finished mechanical properties, but more importantly consistency from part to part, and validating that. And then finally cost. You have to have the right cost per part and we are fully focused on hitting the right cost targets.”

Origin was formed by Prucha and Ong in late 2015. The pair began working with hardware companies in San Francisco, looking to solve the issues companies had going from prototyping with 3D printing to mass production, and doing so with shippable, quality parts. They landed a contract with Marshawn Lynch’s Beast Mode lifestyle brand, and then began working with a few other partners too, including Chronicled, an Enterprise Supply Chain company. In one early project, using an open printer platform, Origin created a software to coordinate and create a custom print process, where the production of an end use product with embedded sensors, multiple colours, injection moulded finish, a custom material from a material partner was produced. Tens of thousands of those parts were shipped, and the idea took off.

It was a process that kickstarted the Origin business, and one that defines the company’s philosophy. Open network, collaboration, mass production.

“[We’re] introducing this new approach to additive manufacturing where we want to partner with companies. We don’t want to compete with the industry, we want to grow the pie,” Prucha finished. “There’s a $10+ trillion manufacturing macro and we are focused on mass production, not prototyping, at our company and we believe that’s going to require partnerships.”