Synteris, a materials company and subsidiary of Early Charm Ventures, recently received $2.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to scale its ceramic 3D printing innovation from the lab to the market.
This growth dovetails with Early Charm Ventures’s own expansion to support the commercial growth of its 34 subsidiary companies, including 12 that focus on advanced materials.
The funding, which comes from the wider, $175 million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s OPEN 2021 program, will help Synteris buy a new commercial 3D printer. The commercial machine will be customized to see if this lab-tested process can grow to a commercial scale. To house the new printer, as well as other growing manufacturing companies in its portfolio, Early Charm Ventures is also expanding to a new space in Pigtown. Colin Harmer, Early Charm’s director of business development, said that the property will include 22,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 8,000 square feet of office space. The intent is for this facility to house explosion-proofed production equipment, which requires buildings to have ventilation and high-airflow capabilities that would be impractical to install at Early Charm’s current space at 1100 Wicomico.
Harmer added that Synteris’s innovation allows for ceramics to be 3D printed at “net shape,” with no size or shape change in the 3D printing process. The general thought on 3D printing is that it comes out exactly how you design it before printing, and that’s true for paper, polymers and certain metals. For ceramics, it’s a bit different: When items are 3D printed, the shape is created before a whole process of hardening and chemical reaction in a furnace to form the final material. What Synteris has developed is the ability to do that chemical process during shaping, instead of after, and generate a final finished product just from the laser printing process alone.
“It would be the first of its kind that’s a net shape carbide nitride printing process,” Harmer told Technical.ly. “We can make parts that have a higher resolution structure, more interesting features, but also have harder and more robust parts — things with less grain boundaries and less faults.”
Eight months from now, Harmer expects the Belsinger Sign Works Inc. building near Carroll Park to be laboratory ready. It’s even possible that most of Early Charm’s functions will take place in the new Pigtown space within a year. He’s excited about the potential applications of this 3D printing technology for high-powered electronics, hypersonics, medical implantables and general Department of Defense applications.
“We’re excited to not only do research development in that space and [be] hiring people to work in Baltimore on that side, but we’re also excited to produce larger quantities of these materials locally,” Harmer said.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation. -30-