North Idaho startup forges new manufacturing relationship

Sharon Fisher//October 16, 2019

North Idaho startup forges new manufacturing relationship

Sharon Fisher//October 16, 2019

photo of continuous composites
Continuous Composites uses 3D printing and robotic arms to build composite parts. Photo courtesy of Continuous Composites

A North Idaho startup has partnered with a manufacturing company that will expand the use of its materials technology.

Continuous Composites, based in Coeur d’Alene, has developed a technology that combines two materials for a composite resin on the fly, and also includes an ultraviolet light to cure the material as it’s extruded. That means parts can be constructed essentially in mid-air without a later baking or curing process. The technology is called Continuous Fiber 3D Printing or CF3D for short.

Signing an agreement

photo of tyler alvarado and john swallow
Tyler Alvarado, right, in the 1915 train depot that the company restored for offices. Photo by Sharon Fisher

The company has now signed a joint development agreement with the Sartomer business line of Arkema – which has its North America corporate headquarters in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania – where the other company will develop resin systems for the Continuous Composite process, to be paired with continuous fibers for different industry applications, said CEO Tyler Alvarado.

“Leveraging the power of CF3D with Arkema’s advanced resins and state of the art laboratory testing facilities, this strategic partnership enables high-performance and lightweight material solutions to be developed and certified,” the companies noted in a press release. “Through this joint effort, a library of advanced material solutions is expected to be established and commercialized.”

For example, the two companies might work on fiberglass composites for a marine manufacturing company or carbon fiber composites for aerospace use with the U.S. Department of Defense, Alvarado explained.

“They’ve recognized how breakthrough our technology is and changing the way composites are manufactured,” he said.

For now, the relationship is only a JDA, with Arkema not taking any equity in Continuous Composites.

“I can’t comment on money changing hands at this stage,” Alvarado said.

Long history

The relationship is actually a long time coming. Arkema first tracked Continuous Composites down three or four years ago when it was just starting out in the basement of Alvarado’s previous company, he said.

“We’ve maintained the relationship and watched our business develop and the traction we’ve developed,” he said.

This particular agreement has been under development for 18 months, he said.

The advantage of the agreement for Continuous Composites is that Arkema has experience in developing materials at high volume and commercializing them.

“This is their domain expertise,” Alvarado said. “They want to focus their development dollars now to meet the requirements, and ultimately we got to market, and this will be a revenue stream for both of us.”

That also means that Arkema customers will have access to Continuous Composites technology, Alvarado said.

“We will bring customers to the table, and they will also bring customers to the table,” he said.

Working with Arkema also means that Continuous Composites can more easily manage its growth, without having to add many more people. Arkema has materials engineers and infrastructure, and Continuous Composites will be able to leverage those resources, Alvarado said.

Continuous Composites background

Earlier this year, Continuous Composites announced a strategic partnership with Broomfield, Colorado-based Spatial Corp. The company is privately funded and has more than two dozen employees. It holds more than 200 patents and patent-pending concepts on the technology.

Composite materials are a combination of two materials that, together, have superior features to either material alone. Historical examples include tin and copper to make bronze.

Typically, modern composite materials involve combining carbon with a plastic polymer. Together, they produce a light, strong material suited for applications where weight is a factor, such as in the aerospace industry.

Composite materials are typically thought of as expensive, but the materials themselves aren’t the issue. The problem is that traditional composite manufacturing has required pouring the material in a mold, baking or curing it in an autoclave, and then cutting away all the parts not needed in the final product. Not only does that waste part of the material, but it demands connecting fasteners, which can add to 30% of the weight of the final product.