Asociación de fabricación aditiva
Asociación de fabricación aditiva

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Cantabria-based Eolas Prints launched its first filaments for 3D printers in 2017. In these past five years, with a pandemic in the middle, the use of 3D printing has increased considerably and the company has evolved. After bringing in a new partner, its aim has been to democratise 3D printing, marketing its own printers, which will hit the market this Christmas at affordable prices. In recent years there have been significant changes in the 3D printing world. It is finding new applications all the time and there are also increasing types of filaments, the raw material used to produce the designs.

In 2015, Luis Toribio, a Cantabria-born Public Works engineer with broad experience in the construction sector, decided to focus his career on this new field. After a period of training, in 2017 Eolas Prints was set up to manufacture this type of filament. Although profitable since its beginnings, it was in 2020 when, in the context of the pandemic, the leap to sales was made. “At that time it became clear that industrial design was necessary. However, nobody had stockpiled material and practically the whole world was depending on the Asian market,” Toribio recalls.

“Seeing what was happening in Italy and predicting that the same would happen here, at Eolas we stockpiled as much material as we could, which we could then use to manufacture during the pandemic and respond to the demand we had,” he explains. The Eolas Prints creator assures that they did not take advantage of the situation to hike up the prices: “We decided to show solidarity and we sold at very small profit margins, even offering financing arrangements to those who could not pay up front. We didn't want to make hay while the sun shone, we had a responsibility to people.” So, during the more complicated months, numerous orders left the Torrelavega factory headed for industries and digital laboratories in various regions that were benevolently helping to produce personal protective and Covid detection equipment. “This helped to get our name out there and showed other parties what our production capacity is like, which is huge,” he said.

Wide variety

Eolas Prints manufactures various types of filaments for 3D printers, depending on the product to be printed. The most popular one is PLA, or polylactic acid, which represents between 75% and 80% of its sales. It is a biodegradable corn and wheat derivative, which does not release any toxic substances. Due to its rigidity, it is often used to manufacture quick development models and prototypes, since it's easy to use and allows for faster printing speed. Other types of filaments offered by the Cantabria-based company are PET or PETG (polyethylene terephthalate), a semi-transparent, colourless and stable thermoplastic that is usually used in food packaging and drinks bottles. It can resist exposure to high temperatures, corrosion and the habitual chemical agents, which means it can also be used to manufacture parts that will be exposed to the elements. Other plastic filaments, TPUs, represent 15% of sales and are characterised by their flexibility, since rubber is included in the mix.

In 2019, the company launched onto the market a filament made up of a mix of PLA plastic with 30% wood chip. This is largely used to print ornamental pieces. The different filaments are manufactured in a range of twenty colours and in the two diameters used by 3D printers worldwide (1.75 and 2.85 millimetres). All of these in coils ranging from 250 grams to several kilos. This wide variety is thanks, in part, to the diversity of clientèle, which comes from sectors as diverse as industry, the naval sector, healthcare and the automotive industry, and sales are virtually split between Spain and the international market (France, England, Germany and Italy).

Manufacturing process

The filament manufacturing process is not too complex, but it requires treating material differently. The first step is to dehumidify the raw material. Once dried, it is fed into a gravimetric feeder with the colouring to be used. From there it goes into the extruder, which consists of a worm screw and several resistances that heat up the material to keep it hard yet malleable enough throughout the run. After that, the filament goes through a series of water tanks before reaching the extruder and from there into the spooler. During the more complicated months of the pandemic, Eolas was producing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but manufacturing has levelled off currently at one shift and monthly production is approximately 1,200 kilos, far from its actual production capacity, which is 100 tons per year.

New investor and new plans

Since its incorporation, Eolas has drawn the attention of several investors and possible buyers. However, the founder was always reluctant to sell up or let go of a stake in the company, until Tanuj Goswami appeared -an IT engineer hailing from Oxford, who has now become a 50% partner and acting CTO of the company. Goswami, who has worked for a decade in a powerful English biotech company, has prompted a redirection of the business, taking the company from being a filament factory to a 3D printing company in every sense, with it sights set on democratising this technology.

The printer prototype is almost ready and the plan is to launch them on the market next March. They come in three sizes and with a multi-purpose extruder, which means there is no need to change it each time the material changes, as is the case with the majority of the models out there. To spread the word about this type of printer, opening offer prices will be affordable, ranging from 400 euros for the most domestic model to 2,000 euros for the more professional models. They will all be equipped with a plug-in system that will revolutionise the 3D printer market and a good number of product developments saved in the memory so that users can select one-click printing options.

For this new activity, Eolas Prints has recruited an industrial engineer with extensive experience in 3D printing, who will oversee printer assembly and will be involved in software development. His presence brings the team at Eolas to six persons. In line with this idea, the Eolas Prints website has been adapted to include information on 3D printing. “We are creating a section on learning, so that a person who has never printed in 3D before can learn and start printing at home with ours or other 3D printers. We want to put an end to this being an exclusive process,” Goswami explains. Along these lines, Toribio admits that they would very much like to be able to introduce schools and colleges to 3D printing, since it is something “that will shape the future of people and companies”.


Source: Cantabria Económica.




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