NFL's Todd Herreman's Spyder Grips
The proverb of this story’s headline has been accepted wisdom since Geoffrey Chaucer first penned the following quote in his distinctive Middle English vernacular for the poem Troilus and Criseyde:
“He which that no-thing under-taketh, No-thing one achieveth, be him looth or dere... He that nought n'assayeth, nought n'acheveth.”
In the year before the turn of this millennia DSM decided to under-taketh a venture into a field they’d once briefly dipped their toe into before, the field this little known technology of Solid Imaging. In 1999 DSM Desotech purchased SOMOS from DuPont and for the next decade SOMOS continued to quietly go about their business.
Back in the 1999 press release that accompanied the acquisition DuPont’s VP at the time, John Hodgson, said: "Although the Somos business has grown over the last few years, long term it is a better strategic fit for DSM Desotech.” That ‘strategic fit’ is, 15 years later as Solid Imagining/3D Printing is beyond burgeoning, coming to fruition.
“Previously, Somos was this niche business bought from DuPont and was treated much more like a venture,” says Hayes, “but now it is seen as very strategic to have a materials company in the 3D printing market. The Somos team feels so excited because they are backed by DSM, DSM wants to know how we can expand from what Somos is today and be a stronger player in this industry.””
Expanding through application
The path to expansion is clear for Somos - it has been set out by their history, the bridges they’ve already built and the breakthroughs they’ve already made. The fruits of the larbour in the decade and a half since acquisition are ripening and Somos is in prime position to pluck them and taste the sweet taste of success.
“It is interesting now, because four or five years ago when we approached companies the reply was often ‘you don’t have a turn key package, you’re not into the equipment’,” explains Hayes. “Now they’re asking us to come to talk to their engineers about what kind of materials we could develop and what kind of applications they could be used for. The conversations with those companies have changed and the same goes for the equipment companies. Now that the focus is on selling more machines they need more materials to offer so they’re coming to materials scientists like us, it is great to have all this interest.”
The Somos portfolio now includes 13 materials that cover a wide range of industries from dental to automotive. A recent case study published by Somos details how NFL offensive guard for the Philadelphia Eagles, Todd Herremans, is using Somos NanoTool material to gain a competitive edge.
Herremans found by squeezing softballs he was developing different muscles in his arm so wondered about implementing these softballs to weightlifting bars. With a roughly patched together prototype he noticed that this was a highly effective way of gaining muscle mass. So he turned to a design company back home in Michigan for a more permanent solution.
Eagle Design determined that the best solution would be stereolithography combined with injection moulding and, having used the material on another project, the team decided on Somos NanoTool.
“A lot of time was saved using Somos NanoTool. Traditionally, we would have had to create the inserts with our 5-axis CNC machine which would have taken twice as long,” says Don Portenga, Engineer at Eagle Design. “We were even able to injection mould 50 sets on our 200 ton Niigata Press from just one mould of Somos NanoTool.”
So impressed with the silicone prototypes was Herremans that he ordered 50 more sets of what are now known as Spyder Grips and are commonplace amongst the NFL players’ gyms - all aiming to gain this competitive edge using Somos material. This isn’t the only sporting context were Somos is proving a hit as Melissa Hayes explains:
“In spring we launched a new material, Somos PerFORM, and one of the biggest benefits of that particular material is that it processed faster on an older generation of stereolithography machines. Toyota Motorsport, whose stereolithography machines are almost exclusively older generations, was able to increase their production efficiency 30 to 35%. This enables them to get more out of the machines and more out of the significant investment they made in the first place.”
Somos has materials for everything from Aerospace to Toy-making.
Knowing your place
One feature of Somos as a company is their well-balanced approach to product development. Although there are plenty of emerging markets, particularly in the form of desktop machines, Somos knows that the majority of their market lies in the industrial world were many companies still operate machines they purchased 10-20 years ago.
‘We have several different buckets of development so we continue to put a lot of effort into advancing the traditional stereolithography materials, improving their properties; their strengths, their durability, improving clarity, improving temperature resistance...” says Hayes. “One of the biggest tests is trying to maintain properties over time. As we’ve seen this shift coming from prototyping to manufacturing where products are being used over and over they need those properties to last. So we’re looking to not just improve properties but maintain them too. The more we perfect the stereolithography materials , the more applications we hope to unlock.”
With eyes firmly on the world of stereolithography, irons in DLP fires - Somos recently announced that their Somos ProtoGen line would include ProtoGen 365nm, which polymerizes at wavelengths used on DLP machines – and two feet planted firmly in the growing industrial applications for medical, aerospace and automotive that venture back in 1999 is starting to gain significant ground and as for that strategic placement?
“There’s a lot of large materials science companies talking about how they’re going to enter the 3D printing market but where Somos and DSM are very unique is that we’ve been in the industry since the very beginning. We have this long history with SOMOS originally having a machine – our roots are in equipment technology - and with DMS, they installed some of the first commercial vats into the early 3D Systems prototypes machines. So we’ve got this integrated understanding of machines and their materials, whereas companies entering the market now with materials may not understand the rest of the technology,” said Ms. Hayes. “We are happy that this ‘venture’ became an established brand and are looking forward to all the new developments that the future brings.”