Evolve Additive Solutions is evolving with a significant equity investment round: company execs fill us in on the implications.
Announced this spring, a long-running internal R&D project at Stratasys, Selective Thermoplastic Electrophotographic Process (STEP), was turned into its own business entity. Now functioning as a standalone company — still counting Stratasys as a minority investor — Evolve Additive Solutions is announcing a big step forward with a consortium of strategic investors.
LEGO Brand Group led the $19 million investment, in which Stanley Black & Decker and a third (unnamed, but assuredly major) partner also participated. These partners will mean a lot for the future of Evolve, CEO Steve Chillscyzn and Chief Business & Marketing Officer Bruce Bradshaw explained as we spoke ahead of today’s announcement.
“We’re very excited about this financing round and what it means to us, both from a lifeline perspective to keep going and take things to the next level and from the perspective of partnership. It’s very exciting to work with the LEGO Brand Group, Stanley Black & Decker, and the third undisclosed investor, that’s a leader in their industry. All of these strategics are working with us to bring financing and, more importantly, that application development that will allow us to go to production with them,” Chillscyzn told me.
As he acknowledged that “funding is critical lifeblood” to take the next steps forward, the real enthusiasm springs from what will come from what that lifeblood pumps.
Last week, the company announced the first shipment of an alpha system to a strategic partner; with this investment, they’re already looking toward the next step, into beta.
I asked a few questions about the relationships with the three partners, the next steps for Evolve, and the competitive landscape.
What do Evolve’s relationships look like with LEGO Brand Group, Stanley Black & Decker, and the third partner?
“This relationship has been working for 2-3 years,” Chillscyzn told me of their mutually beneficial relationship with LEGO Brand. “On both sides, we’re understanding the needs and wants of the other, we’re understanding how to take manufacturing for their products for the future, and they’ve been watching us grow. Beyond the technical hurdles, they’ve been watching the company itself grow from an incubator inside a company to spinning out…watching this R&D effort transform into a standalone company with all the things required there. LEGO has been watching and involved that whole time; it’s been a long-term relationship.”
The longstanding relationship with LEGO is testament, he says to the fact that “things of this nature don’t get done overnight,and shouldn’t get done overnight.” For its part, the LEGO Brand Group has been working with additive manufacturing for two decades; they have both experience and patience when it comes to this technology.
Looking to Stanley Black & Decker, Chillscyzn noted that it’s a similar relationship, as the strategic investment allows that company to “look at Evolve to provide a solution for their issues around flexibility.” Going beyond the general well-known benefits of additive manufacturing — part consolidation, lightweighting, and redesign, for example — the fact that STEP is a dedicated manufacturing technology takes these advantages further.
“With the elements Evolve brings in high speed and price per part, being competitive with traditional methods, Stanley Black & Decker understood what we offered. It’s good to bring these benefits of additive [e.g., lightweighting], but if you can’t get to a part price competitive with traditional, it’s not competitive. They evaluated Evolve, and that was one of the biggest advantages they saw, to give flexibility in manufacturing operations,” he said.
Stanley Engineered Fasteners’ CTO, Tim Hatch, commented in today’s press release that his team sees potential impact for STEP applications in “the production of high quality medium volume plastic components for a number of our product categories.”
Bradshaw pointed out in our conversation that a significant differentiator for Evolve’s place in the market is that the company is focused “100% squarely in manufacturing; this is not a prototyping solution.”
Both LEGO and Stanley Black & Decker are looking to leverage that manufacturing mindset; their investments, Chillscyzn said, “speak highly of the faith in what we’re doing” with STEP.
For the third partner, Evolve can say only that they are a “leader in their field” and a “company on par with the other two.”
What do the next steps look like?
The recent announcement about the alpha installation represented a big step for STEP, Chillscyzn said, and they’re already looking ahead to the next phases. The investment enables the next step into beta, as the relationships and other necessities for bringing beta machines to the market solidify.
“In the next 18-24 months there will be a lot of activity around commercializing STEP technology,” he said.
Because the focus is squarely in manufacturing, Bradshaw added, Evolve is spending a great deal of time talking with organizations, companies, and partners to that end. The company is working with manufacturing and software companies “that will allow us to move seamlessly into production.”
“These are the kinds of announcements you’ll see from us as we move this partnership forward,” he said. “We have a unique advantage over some technologies — to say nothing negative about them, all boats rise in a rising tide — our technology allows us to create manufacturing cells similar to a CNC cell or a molding cell, to enhance a traditional manufacturing environment with some tools they don’t have today.”
How do you see the competitive landscape?
With the recent wealth of announcements in 3D printing, I’ve taken to asking many participants how they feel about the competition, and appreciated the opportunity to take a look at Evolve’s take.
“All new technologies have their definite place, and we wish the best to all of them,” Chillscyzn began.
“When I look at Evolve and all that we bring, we bring quite a competitive advantage in our methodology because we are focused 100% on manufacturing and all of our solutions are manufacturing-based. I get the feeling that many others are focused between manufacturing and prototyping; Evolve is only manufacturing. Looking at the cost per part, the part quality, the throughput, and — this is the big one — the scale and versatility, it’s like nothing I’ve seen. I’ve been doing this 12, 13 years and I’ve never seen anything with this extendability.”
Bradshaw agreed, noting as well that last week’s IMTS brought a lot of this part of the market into specific focus.
“What I like specifically at IMTS is that it’s around manufacturing. Most of the competition, especially on the plastics side, have a foot in prototyping. The conversation around manufacturing at IMTS was very positive; the competition will find their applications, and that’s great. For me, it brings a lot of focus and attention to additive in general, and companies will make the decisions that work best for them,” he said.
“That’s also what I like on the metal side, a lot of the focus in aerospace and medical is in production.It’s all about how the marketplace continues to grow. We’re now above the black eye we got in 3D printing years ago with the talk about consumer and everyone having a 3D printer in their home. I really believe manufacturing is where we’re heading, additive is going squarely in that direction.”