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ValCUN Closes €1.5 Million Financing Round for Unique Plasma Metal 3D Printing

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Belgian startup ValCUN has just raised €1.5 million to further the development of its metal printing technology. PMV, VLAIO, and private investors took part in the funding round in the company. The company’s innovative metal printing technology is aimed at radically lowering the cost of metal 3D printing and doing so with high throughput.

When we wrote about them before, we described their process as, “extruding preheated molten metal onto a workpiece that is heated through electric current, which creates a plasma jet. This plasma jet warms the surface onto which the melted material will be deposited, exactly where it will be deposited. Through precise preheating and use of plasma, the new layer is then fused with the existing layer.”

This kind of technology could very well be disruptive—especially since the materials for it could be much cheaper than the powders we use today. The company says that “wire, granulates, residual flows, and even recycled metal and previously printed parts are suitable as raw material.” This would make it an exciting candidate for low-cost parts or for applications such as shipbuilding or manufacturing trucks.

“We didn’t take the easy road, developing a new technology and new hardware simultaneously – a combination that many investors are opposed to. We are steadily pursuing our sky-high ambitions by thinking globally and we see potential at renowned companies such as Google and Tesla. From the outset, we have positioned ourselves as an international company. To implement this vision, we are currently looking for business / customer development and engineering talents”, co-founder Jan De Pauw said.

The ValCUN team with Jonas Galle, Jan de Pauw, Mohsen Saadatmand, Antal Decugnière.

ValCUN is part of a crop of firms trying to make metal 3D printing low cost, either through binder jet—as ExOne, Desktop Metal, GE, and HP are doing—with new technologies, as Xerox and Meld are working on, or via lower cost Push Button Metal machines. We also have application-focused startups, like HoloAM. At the same time, the powder bed fusion companies are engaging in the “laser wars” to build nine or more laser machines for higher productivity. Seurat, Wayland Additive, and Velo3D meanwhile are bringing new methodologies for powder bed to the party.

Imagine it as a battle of the bands. All in all, we’ve got the Binder Jet Boys (who we might also call “Binder Jet and the Windbreakers”) that aim to make millions of low-cost part series. Then, the New Techs who don’t have applications but have cost advantages. Holo and the Applications are pioneering with one end-use part or application in mind. Dr. Hans and the Powder Beds are aiming to take their technology to production for expensive space and orthopedics parts. Meanwhile, Benny and the Oak Ridge Choir are chasing the space and aviation business.

It’s interesting that everyone in a similar grouping is behaving nearly identical and, generally, they’re all talking to many of the same customers. We’re seeing the formation of a new industry order here but I think there is an over-focus and concentration on a small number of the same applications and players. We discuss this on the 3DPOD with VELO3D CEO Benny Buller. To me, this is not a battle that will be won on the drafting table in the near term, but rather by salespeople. To me, what these companies need is an installed base. They need to get units in companies and build experience, data, and track records. They need to inspire people to bet on them and not one of the other players.

ValCUN has printed demonstration parts, patents and now has to make a machine and find customers. The startup now has four employees and aims to grow to nine. Its path to the market is now defined as focusing on heat exchangers, especially for electric vehicles and data centers. I like this industry focus and think that, coupled with aluminum, it should be a really promising area to explore.

Engaging and working with car companies is difficult, especially in 3D printing, since they’re inundated by calls from OEMs. Working with Bosch and firms such as Panasonic, Mahle, Denso, Marelli, and, especially, Nippon Light Metal, would be very advantageous, I think. With all the focus on so few companies people often forget that there are billions of dollars of industries out there that have scarcely been touched by 3D printing, but could benefit enormously from optimized geometries, textures, weight saving, part consolidation and unique components.

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