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1st April 2019, Paris

Fully automated, ‘lights out’ manufacturing

Hemant Bheda, co-founder and chairman of Arevo. © ArevoSilicon Valley company Arevo is aiming to redefine global composite manufacturing by moving 3D printing beyond prototypes and into mainstream manufacturing for the design and fabrication of large, mass-produced parts and structures.

It won the prestigious Startup Booster competition at the 2019 JEC World conference and exhibition in Paris, beating off nine other finalists selected from 120 applicants from 30 countries, representing a wide range of materials and manufacturing disciplines across the composites sector.

Inside Composites spoke to Hemant Bheda, co-founder and chairman of the company.

Congratulations on winning the JEC World Startup Booster against some tough competition.

Hemant Bheda: Thank you, it’s a great start to 2019, and a testament to the high performance multi-disciplinary team at Arevo, which comprises 13 PhDs in computer science, materials science, and robotics from the best universities around the world.

What led to the formation of Arevo by yourself and Wiener Mondesir?

HB: We are both veterans of serial start-ups. Four years ago, I was involved with a polymer company which was approached by a major oil and gas company looking for parts with extremely high mechanical properties based on carbon fibres. I was puzzled. The solution required the engineered orientation of the carbon fibres, bundle by bundle. They were engineers doing interesting stuff and I thought they might already have such a technology, but this was not the case – it simply wasn’t possible to make the fibre-based parts they were looking for by conventional assembly processes.

I came across a paper on 3D printing which suggested this might be a potential route, but clearly, new machinery, a new process and new software would be required. That’s when we decided to form Arevo. I knew from Day One it would have to be multi-disciplinary, but primarily this was a software problem. I realised that what the industry is looking for is digital transformation and that’s what we aim to offer. In order to perfect the 3D techniques, we had to develop our technology and start making and selling our own parts, in order to learn, improve and innovate.

Can you say a little about the technology you have developed?

HB: Our robotic manufacturing cells can theoretically print anything within a square of 1.2 metres, locally, on demand and with fully reproducible results. We now have a number in operation. They are based on patented free-motion robotics for direct energy fibre deposition in true 3D dimensions and carry out high-speed deposition.

The company won the JEC World Startup Booster this year. © Arevo

The company won the JEC World Startup Booster this year. © Arevo

The in-situ closed loop control laser process incorporates machine learning and smart data. This is fully automated ‘lights out’ manufacturing and it’s a big and radical departure from the basic ‘lamination’ theory.

Can you explain why?

HB: Well, historically in the development of composites, the industry liked the isotropic properties of carbon but was accustomed to using metal, so the approach was to make composites act as much like metal as possible, built up in layers in stacks into blocks and then cut into shape. That generates an awful lot of waste for one thing. With computational power, you are much freer to examine each individual fibre bundle within a given part geometry, and use the fibre only where it’s needed. The key is in the patented software algorithms used in our composites and the generative design techniques they make possible.

Can you tell us about your first series production part – the frame for an electric bike made as a single part?

HB: There are currently around one million bikes with composite frames out there, but they’re made in a very manual process which is dirty and time consuming. Currently, there are some 27 parts required and the process chain involves cutting and wrapping the pieces, mould placement, oven curing and finishing for each of them. This field is certainly ready for digital transformation, because the savings in terms of time and manpower are considerable. We are achieving less than 1% voids, which is the basic failure requirement for primary structures in aerospace and there is no post processing required.

Frame for an electric bike made as a single part. © Arevo

Frame for an electric bike made as a single part. © Arevo

Currently the time required to take a new bike design to market is 18 months. We did this first design in just 18 days, which is still way too long, because we believe we can get it down to a couple of hours very soon. The software will allow us to do that. There are other savings to be considered too, in no longer having to plan a year ahead on prototyping, booking out the capacity and the rest. We believe the success of this product will open the doors for many other applications.

Airbus also exhibited an aircraft seat bracket made with your technology at JEC World. What are its advantages?

HB: Same as with the bike frame, but they were very surprised that we could do it in just two days more than anything, because basically, what we are doing is giving the parts to the software to come up with the ideal geometry and load paths to predict how it will behave in advance. This is regenerative optimisation through machine learning and allows for hyper-customisable parts through our on-demand manufacturing processes.

What do you think the further potential of your technology is?

HB: We really believe we can unlock a trillion-dollar market that’s out there for replacing metal structures with new lightweight composites that are ultra-strong. At the same time, our localised, modular, and scalable manufacturing will improve the ‘time to market’ factor in many global industries by eliminating several supply chain bottlenecks that are inherent in traditional manufacturing.

Graphic representation of the composite 3D printing generative design process used to create the Arevo aircraft seat bracket featured at the Airbus booth at JEC World. © Business Wire

Graphic representation of the composite 3D printing generative design process used to create the Arevo aircraft seat bracket featured at the Airbus booth at JEC World. © Business Wire

We really believe this has the potential to not only equalise manufacturing around the world and bring manufacturing jobs back to countries from which they’ve all but disappeared, but to actually fix many of the ill effects that have been building up since the start of the Industrial Revolution by creating a different kind of eco system – that’s what’s so exciting.

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