Project Summary

Expanse Microtechnologies Inc. (Expanse) provides customized 3D x-ray computed tomography (CT) solutions to the additive manufacturing (AM) industry by bridging the gap between the complexity of CT data and the unique challenges in AM product and process development. This niche expertise blossomed from a close relationship with the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing (MSAM) group at the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), where Expanse personnel provided training and analysis to MSAM in return for equipment usage and AM knowledge transfer.

“MSAM provided our team with encouragement and knowledge, helping us to become experts in a niche market while growing our business and capabilities.”

-James Hinebaugh, Ph.D., President, Expanse Microtechnologies Inc.

Partner

Expanse is an Ontario-based, virtually-operated company that provides customized material characterization services to the advanced materials and additive manufacturing (AM) industries, including medical, aerospace and automotive clients. Expanse was founded in 2016 as a result of a highly productive relationship with MSAM. The founders had significant experience with x-ray CT equipment, image processing and data analysis, and MSAM had a need for advanced analytical capabilities of their AM parts and materials. Expanse uses CT imaging and advanced data analytics to determine the properties of feedstock powders (e.g., porosity, morphology and distribution of particles and pores) and printed parts (e.g., surface texture, wall thickness, pore size and location, and dimensional metrology). Expanse also works with composite materials and developed a fiber isolation algorithm for use in advanced materials science. These critical analyses allow clients to leverage their equipment to improve products and processes. An example of the synergy between MSAM and Expanse is illustrated in the powder and product analytics developed by Expanse by leveraging competencies and equipment in the MSAM portfolio.

Expanse Microtechnologies Inc. had an impressive transition from research collaborators to a successful start-up, while maintaining an excellent working relationship with UW. MSAM looks forward to continued collaboration as we expand our industrial R&D work.”

-Mihaela Vlasea. Ph.D., Associate Research Director and Assistant Professor, Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab, University of WaterlooMulti-Scale Additive Manufacturing

Challenge

MSAM nano-CT equipment

X-Ray CT is a non-destructive AM measurement tool that is well-recognized for its ability to illustrate voids and complex shapes not reliably measured with traditional methods. However, the complexity of CT machine operation and the detailed analysis of the resulting imagery are often barriers to AM researchers and not easily incorporated into product development. Similarly, CT machine experts are unfamiliar with the particular challenges and intricacies of AM materials and products. Prior to Expanse, there was no organization in Canada with the unique combination of advanced CT experience and AM knowledge. This competency gap was identified as a necessary hurdle to overcome so AM researchers and industry users could get the most value from their equipment.

Solution

The founders of Expanse developed an image processing algorithm to extract measurements from CT data that are most relevant to AM. Through collaboration with MSAM researchers, the algorithm was refined to address the quality and consistency of feedstock materials, AM equipment, and printed products.

Expanse trained MSAM researchers on CT equipment usage and provided valuable data analytics for MSAM projects. In return, MSAM provided Expanse with not only equipment access, but also invaluable AM knowledge and experience.

Expanse Microtechnologies analytical capabilities

Impact

The knowledge exchange between Expanse and MSAM became a symbiotic relationship. As Expanse’s expertise and client base grew, MSAM leveraged their competency to become increasingly independent in CT use. Further, the collaboration provided enhanced data analytics to both teams that optimized part quality, equipment usage and research results, while Expanse continued to carve out a market niche.

Expanse grew from two employees in 2016 to six employees in 2018. They have developed prototypes with intricate AM features (e.g., overhangs, thin walls, intricate geometries) for prospective client demonstration. MSAM and Expanse continue to support each other in the integration of CT and advanced data analytics for optimizing AM products and processes.

Future

Expanse expects to double its revenue in 2019 and increase staff by up to 50%. The company is working toward acquiring an Ontario-based facility with equipment complementary to MSAM’s, which will allow continued collaboration and growth.