There are numerous startups in the Additive Manufacturing (AM) ecosystem. Some, like Desktop Metal (below additively manufactured hinge), raised millions of dollars in venture funding. While startups around new machines and additive technologies raise large sums and get a lot of press, it is well known by now that the AM ecosystem is comprised of much more than just machines. This week we give a shout out to such startups, 10 of them for now. And we didn’t even include our favorite startup: LEO Lane.
The Bigger Picture
One of the biggest hurdles for a company facing AM integration is recognizing which parts or products are suitable for additive manufacturing. (#1) Castor’s software intends to do just that: providing an analysis of parts, determining whether they are suited for additive manufacturing over other manufacturing technologies, as well as recommending the most compatible technology, material, and service bureau. Castor, an Israeli startup, participated in the Stanley+Techstars Additive Manufacturing Accelerator in 2018, now in its 2nd year (by the way applications for the next round are still open). The accelerator chose 10 startup companies, a mix of printers, materials, and applications, Castor stands out for its bigger picture perspective as it addresses a business need faced by many companies wanting to enter AM production.
Beyond creating a part that is suitable for additive manufacturing, the technology opens up possibilities in terms of the geometry – creating lighter parts for example. For this purpose, a number of startups are developing software for optimization of the geometry. (#2) AMendate developed a topology optimization software which automatically takes into consideration the relevant design rules for additive manufacturing. The startup received no less than 3 awards last year: it was the winner of the Formnext Start-Up Challenge, awarded startup of the year by 3dnatives and received the Rapid Tech startup award. Another AM software startup set to address the challenges of designing functional parts for industrial additive manufacturing is (#3) nTopology. The startup’s software combines the geometrical aspect along with workflows and simulation (below Formula 1 brake pedal design using nTopology). Last year Lockheed Martin invested in the company. Chris Moran, Vice President and General Manager of Lockheed Martin Ventures commented on the move: “Our investment in nTopology will bring strategic advantages in Lockheed Martin’s computational design processes and help shorten the periods between the design and manufacturing phase.”
Companies can benefit from creating optimized parts with additive manufacturing, yet the benefits are even bigger when applying distributed additive manufacturing. (#4) Osseo Print 3D won the AMS startup competition for its platform technology which 3D prints patient-specific bone scaffolds for dental, orthopedic, plastic, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. For example, during a dental procedure, the startup claims a 3D printed graft can be produced on site in 15 minutes. Apart from the technology and the applications, the printing can take place on-site at the practitioner’s office and should be able to cover the costs in 10 to 20 uses.
The Material Side
The more variability and precision in AM materials, the easier it is to reach viable industrial options. (#5) Structured Polymers produces specialty powder polymer materials for industrial additive manufacturing. The startup, that was recently acquired by Evonik, aims to create high-grade powder in industrial costs and quantities, such as True Black Nylon 12 powder for SLS (up top). More so, their process and material allow for recyclability, enabling manufacturers to cut waste material.
Machines, materials, and software, are the basis for industry adoption but startups that are built around specific applications take the ecosystem another step further. (#6) Catalysis is one of those startups. Founders Darrell Stafford and Rick Shibko, who previously worked at Honda of America Manufacturing, took their experience in product development, specifically in tooling lead times, and translated it to a service providing additively manufactured tooling solutions from designing and iterations to mass production (above metal mold for injection molding additively manufactured by Catalysis). In a completely different field of applications,(#7) Rocket Lab, an aerospace manufacturer, utilizes additive manufacturing in the production of the Rutherford engine. The startup raised $140 million in their Series E funding round last October (below the Rutheford engine from Rocket Lab which is almost completely 3D printed). And (#8) Smile Direct Club, which produces clear teeth aligners (similar to Invisalign) is one of the 10 most funded 3D startups in 2018, actually last October they raised $380 million in one round making it the “biggest round ever for a startup in the 3D printing space”.
Crossing Disciplines Into AM
As the ecosystem grows, new cross sections with other fields and disciplines are formed. Generative design software (#9) Genysis was developed by Francis Bitonti, a designer turned AM entrepreneur. The software was developed by the studio at first to answer the needs of the projects and is now a product in itself. Another startup triggered by an encounter between fields is (#10) Nascar Driver Brad Keselowski’s Startup. Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing (KAM) is a hybrid manufacturing facility, with partners such as GE Additive, ALSCO, Pinnacle X-Ray Solutions, Big Kaiser Precision Tooling, and Mazak Corporation (below AM parts at KAM). Brad Keselowski’s past as a race car driver is what brought him to additive manufacturing, in an interview he says: “To be great at motorsports you need to have outstanding engineering capabilities and outstanding manufacturing capabilities. So, as I was building my track team, I didn’t want to just buy everything. I wanted to be able to build from scratch. That way, we could better control our costs, improve our quality…basically rely on our own engineering skills and our own fabrication skills.”
Needs from other fields brought Keselowski and Bitonti to AM, but solutions from adjacent fields can also be applied in industrial additive manufacturing. The last one on our list isn’t a 3D printing startup, but a 3D scanning startup. (bonus #11) 8-Tree uses 3D scanning for inspection, it provides an array of solutions such as the dentCHECK, a portable dent mapping tool which is currently used by companies such as DHL and Airbus to inspect their aircraft (above is the scanner in action). While the dentCHECK isn’t specified for AM purposes it can possibly provide an inspection solution for additively manufactured parts.
These AM Startups and many others are answering needs raised by the AM ecosystem. The path to industrial use is intricate, and every aspect is intertwined with another: machines are developed for materials, materials are developed for certain machines, the same goes for applications, some are a result of existing technologies while some technologies are developed with specific applications in mind. Every need met brings the AM ecosystem closer to widespread adoption.