Eden Prairie-based Stratasys Ltd  has spun off its small, powder-based 3-D printing operation into a new independent company called Vulcan Labs Inc., officials announced Tuesday.

Stratasys, which manufacturers large commercial 3-D printers and performs contract manufacturing for customers, said it will retain an ownership stake in Vulcan Labs. 

The new entity will be based in Belton, Texas. It came to be after Stratasys bought a production-oriented service bureau in 2014 called Harvest Technologies. Now the entity is being spun off. 

Going forward, Vulcan Labs will focus on improving its “powder bed fusion technology,” which uses one or more moving thermal lasers to fuse together nylon powder particles that lie in a tray. 

The goal is for the technology to improve so it’s faster and can consistently repeat production specifications for quality, finishes and other features.  

The powder-bed technology has been developing for several years. It is preferred by select customers because the end product has a  consistent structure and smoother finish than some other 3-D printing techniques. Industry experts said the powder bed printers have been welcome by factories that need to make up to 1,000 finished parts quickly and not just a single prototype.

Powder-bed fusion printing is an alternative to traditional 3-D printers, which typically deposit and stack thousands of lines of molten plastic in different configurations until a specific shape or product emerges.
3-D printing technology has grown from a novice industry a decade ago into a multi-billion dollar industry that is omnipresent in factories around the globe.

The technology now offers lots of options and is liked by manufacturers because it cuts the time and cost to make prototypes and small batch parts. 3-D printing is widely used to manufacture airplane and auto parts, patient anatomy models, medical school training tools and industrial product prototypes.

Today companies such as Stratasys, which went public in 2013, and its competitors are racing to find the next application and striving to perfect different printing approaches like powder.

The hope is that powder-bed firms such as Vulcan Labs can improve speed, product consistency, waste reduction and the mixed material printing of plastics, metals, silicone, rubber and other materials.
Vulcan officials said in a statement “In the coming months, Vulcan will engage with partners and customers to further develop Vulcan’s solutions and help customers meet stringent manufacturing requirements and new applications. 

Vulcan Labs’ new management team includes David K. Leigh, an industry pioneer and the founder and CEO of Harvest Technologies. Leigh is an additive manufacturing expert with experience in using powder-bed and traditional 3-D printing to make products for the aerospace,defense, automotive and oil & gas industries.

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