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Q&A: Fortify CEO Josh Martin on application opportunities, its partnership with Tethon 3D & investment from In-Q-Tel

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Earlier this year, TCT caught up with Fortify CEO Josh Martin [JM] to get his insights on the latest developments at the Boston-based 3D printing company. 

Fortify had come to market with its Digital Composite Manufacturing offering, which consists of the Flux series of DLP 3D printers, as well as a growing portfolio of materials. At RAPID + TCT in May, the company showcased HTS, its ceramic fiber-filled photopolymer that has a heat deflection temperature of >300°C at 0.45 MPa while maintaining tensile strength of 90 MPa in Z. Weeks earlier, the company had procured investment from In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit strategic investor that aims to accelerate technology developments in support of US intelligence and defence agencies, while last year it also aligned with Tethon 3D to focus on ceramic materials. 

Below, Martin shares his thoughts on each of those developments, plus the application opportunities that are opening up for users of Fortify’s Flux printers. 

Can you explain the motivation behind rolling out the HTS ceramic fibre-filled photopolymer material?

JM: Yeah, I would say the main motivation is that we’ve seen a high demand for high strength, high stiffness, high temperature resistant, photopolymer. That’s one part. So that’s one of the big things about it, it doesn’t have some of the challenging post processes, or a two-part mixture where you have to work with a living reaction, so to speak. And so, it’s a one-pot system, reinforced, high temperature, high strength material that was super quick, and super reliable, kind of leverages a lot of the technology that we’ve focused on, all the different tooling areas where you have like a very high demand environment.

[An] example of ours, it’s a compressor screw, it’s actually in a high viscosity, high temperature, corrosive environment. And basically, as it turns it pumps fluid through. That’s just an example of a part that we’ve done. If you were to get this traditionally manufactured, believe it or not, this would cost you [around] two grand. Because you’d have to use a very expensive feedstock, like a fibreglass reinforced high temperature polymer and then there’s machine operations, not too easy to do. This is something that fully loaded with machine and labour, you’re looking at like three hundred bucks.

In addition to the compressor screw, what other application opportunities do you see with this material?

JM: Yeah, so a lot of what we’re seeing and [being] pulled into today would be high temperature fluid exchanger applications, high resolution mechanical structures, whether that’s just like a bracket if it’s something that might require a high temperature rigid tooling fixture. So, I would say it’s a high-performance material that is easy to take advantage for a wide range of general tooling, applications, and prototypes. I think where it shines versus some of the other materials in the space is when you have like a high temperature fluid and you’re worried about like corrosion or any softening of the resin.

Last year, you partnered with Tethon 3D to develop ceramic materials – can you explain your ambitions as collaborators?

JM: So, the ceramics market is starting to grow quickly. It’s still relatively small. And I felt that there weren’t great industrial OEMs on the market. There are a few players, many based out of Europe, many with roots to that service, R&D, smaller component manufacturing versus larger throughput. So, our collaboration with Tethon allows us to take their material development, which is where they’re focused, and bring it on to the best value platform as far as what you’re going to get. For capabilities, build volume and price, we feel that it’s the leading solution and now you can access the entire Tethon material suite. And one of the things that’s interesting about the ceramic space is a lot of the users, they might have a powder that’s not 3D printable yet, and they want to get there and so, with Tethon, we can work with them to help develop solutions for those customers.

In terms of applications, what are you targeting with the ceramic materials that users can access as a result of that collaboration?

JM: Yeah, we’ve seen optic in, I would say, from the left to the right in terms of traditional to New Age and higher complexity engineering, you’ve got your tools, jigs, fixtures, where it might be an extrusion dye for making glass fibre, for example. And then you have other reaction vessels, high temperature, filtration-based applications. One of the things that I like about the ceramic space is it overlaps with our push into the electronics market. And so, it’s great for high temperature, vacuum-based space applications, whether that’s heat exchangers, or just like radiating elements or antenna and radar. And so that’s one of the things that we’re applying that material class to.

That brings me on to the investment Fortify recently procured from In-Q-Tel.

JM: Yeah, so the partnership with In-Q-Tel really lends credibility to Fortify’s technology, servicing, in this case, the intelligence agency. It really is a focus on our RF and electronics materials suite. And for us, what that does is it gets components field tested, and really, I would say, high performance environments, so that we can take that and leverage it into the commercial, and other adjacent aerospace and defence issues. So, it’s a really great way for what I’ll say, or what I believe I can say, with that In-Q-Tel investment is it’s never in a vacuum, it’s always with a pull from the sponsoring agencies. And so, there are bona fide programmes and parts that are being manufactured and delivered as part of that.

Why is Fortify’s technology offering suitable for electronics and RF device applications?

JM: As far as the applications go, it’s very broad actually. I think it’s a broad application space where you can start to service everything from individual components, connectors, waveguides, lenses, up into some of the more value engineered systems, antenna and radar. And the reason that we’re so excited about it, is that our technology stack means that we can produce materials uniquely valuable in that domain. So, we talked a lot about Radix. This is a launch that we’ve worked on with our partners at Rogers [Corporation], heavily viscous, heavily filled, challenging material to work with, that we’ve been able to develop a scalable process around. And so that’s part of the reason.

The other element I would add is, in my mind, I think DLP is the most ready platform for this, because of the demands on resolution. I mean, some of these parts are very challenging to manufacture out of any other platform today. And DLP is uniquely situated to do that. The geometry is a key part of the performance. It’s not just for looks, or because you can, it really dictates the performance of the end application.

If we focus on specific application, how does Fortify’s Digital Composite Manufacturing technology enhance the performance of, for example, an RF Lens?

JM: Yeah, so it effectively takes that fuse signal and concentrates it down. So, in the form of a receiver detector or radar, it means that you get a broad field of view at lower power. And so, some agencies in aerospace and defence want that because they can have lower profile, what’s called a higher aperture radar sensor, and then on the flip side, on the transmit side, you can take energy and focus it down. So you can have in the telecom space, greater uplink capacity for higher bandwidth and what’s called beam focusing. That geometry allows for this by changing the dielectric constant, kind of like what an optical magnifying glass does. We’re doing that at higher frequencies and you can also design that for other unique opportunities.

How would a part like that be traditionally manufactured?

JM: Yes, they exist, but they’re so expensive to manufacture that they’re kind of cost prohibitive [to be] a scalable application. Usually, it’s a jigsaw puzzle of different RF ceramic foams and it’s hand assembled, where you’re trying to change the property over the course of the device by taking little building blocks, and like manually popping them in there, gluing it together. They’ve mainly been viewed as really promising technical applications or technical devices that don’t really have a practical means of manufacture. So, when we speak with folks in this space, they’re blown away by the ability to have the first digital manufacturing process for it, where we can take in HFSS simulation, and go straight to our design department.

Finally, since coming to market, Fortify has had a significant play in the 3D printing of jigs and fixtures. So, what are the advances you want to make in this area?

JM: Yeah, so I think we’ve done a great job so far on the material side, there’s more work that can be done and [at RAPID + TCT 2022], we’re actually showcasing for the first time in the jigs and fixtures area, the first photopolymer ESD material. This is something that can go through a wave solder process, like up to 280°C, still maintain shape and stiffness. And then we’ve got the first elastomeric photopolymer ESD, which is effectively used for boots and caps. So, you can use this for conformal coatings, sensitive electronics, and in like certain applications, you have to take this board and do like an overcoat. And right now those are done with like technicians and tape. So, you can have it manufactured, all your components, and just pop them on, which has been an interesting space for us.

So, there’s more work that we’re doing on the material side, but also on the front end the software and design side, we’re working with partners for automated tool, jigs and fixture design workflows. And that’ll just make it that much easier to use this technology on the shop floor or whatever environment [the user is in].


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