Polly Polymer, a startup in China that develops high-speed stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing equipment, polymers, and software, raised 100 million Chinese Yuan ($15.5 million) in a Series A+ round. The startup is hoping to capture a slice of the fast-growing 3D printing markets in East Asia. Furthermore, it will use the funds to enhance its R&D investment and market promotion and expand its production capacity by finalizing the construction of a 3D printing smart facility in the southeastern Chinese province of Anhui.
Vitalbridge Capital led the round. The Shanghai private equity firm focused on finding leading startups in digital transformation and technological innovation has already invested in many future-oriented medical and information “next-generation companies.”. According to Polly Polymer founder and CEO Wang Wenbin, they will work with Vitalbridge to explore 3D printing application scenarios in various fields such as medical treatment, automotive, and digital consumption.
Participants in this round, which brings Polly Polymer’s total raised to $16 million, includes existing backer GSR United Capital, an Hangzhou private equity firm that re-upped in this round. New backers include SDIC Fund Management, a Beijing early-stage venture capital firm; investment management firm Suzhou Zhongxin Innovation Investment; integrated asset management company Infore Capital; and Shanghai venture firm Kehui Venture Capital.
Founded in 2017, Polly Polymer currently has more than 2,000 material formulas, SLA hardware systems, and nearly 80 patents. Within the first year of business, it managed to earn more than 10 million Chinese Yuan ($1.5 million) in revenue, followed by annual growth of 200%. In addition, the firm offers various high-speed SLA 3D printing-related services that target corporate customers, including research and development on materials and equipment and software.
Since establishing the first 3D printing materials research institute in cooperation with the Additive Manufacturing Research Institute of the Industrial Culture Development Center, part of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Polly Polymer began optimizing new printing materials based on speed performance and cost. It was followed by developing what the company describes as an ultra-high-speed intelligent industrial printing platform based on Hindered Asynchronous Light Synthesis (HALS) technology.
Polly Polymer claims HALS has printing speeds that are 100 times faster than traditional manufacturing equipment; that is, it can produce a shoe’s midsole in 20 minutes. By doing so, the production cost of small and medium-sized batches is almost equal to the mass production cost of injection molding, stated the startup. Thus, the HALS printing technology is designed for industrial-scale mass production. However, Polly Polymer has also recently developed a quasi-industrial-scale high-speed photocuring printing technology for commercial applications. Suitable for new 3D printing materials, the printing speed is described as “20 times faster than traditional equipment with low power consumption and high stability.” Combined with the software platform independently developed by Polly Polymer, it is expected to provide lightweight solutions for industries like medical, dental, and industrial design.
In this specific 3D printing niche, Polly Polymer is not only competing with established brands like Formlabs or Carbon but huge domestic startups like UnionTech and LuxCreo, which are on the track of photocuring 3D printing. The breakthrough for the company, however, will come from its new facility, currently under construction. The site is drawing a lot of attention, especially since it will be a dark factory. In other words, it will be fully automated, won’t require lighting or users, and the production flow will be controlled through cloud computing so that the factory will be completely remote-controlled.
Focused on providing cost-effective products and helping customers industrialize their smart cloud factory, Polly Polymer has established cooperative relations with several leading footwear brands in the region. Furthermore, Polly Polymer will have the physical capacity to 3D print over 10,000 pairs of shoes every day once the facility is launched. This number could be heavily scaled by replicating the production line.
Polly Polymer has plenty of experience in the footwear industry and reported that when a big-name sports brand has to make a new pair of shoes, as many as 40 sizes are usually necessary. That is roughly 22 sizes for children, eight for adult women, and 10 for adult men. But if that new product is a professional adult sports shoe, then four different front sole widths (B, D, 2E, and 4E) are needed for 18 sizes. In short, one new shoe style requires at least 94 midsole metal molds.
With traditional processes, it would typically take two months to start manufacturing a new pair of shoes. That includes between 30 and 45 days just to prepare the molds, plus trial production time. The same process in Polly Polymer’s factory is expected to be done in a snap once the data is synchronized on the cloud.
Sports is one of the biggest industries for 3D printing, and Polly Polymer has become immersed in several major collaborations, including a recent one with Xiaoxi Shi, an award-winning industrial designer and co-founder of 2-LA Design. This Calabasas, California brand creates iconic products, like smart wearable devices and watches, 3D knitted shoes, and iconic Nokia smartphones. With the designer, Polly Polymer launched a fully 3D printed one-piece shoe with an integrated outsole, a design that could not have been developed using traditional technologies.
“With the help of Polly Polymer, we have completed a disruptive breakthrough in shoes. Polly’s integrated solution from software to printing, then to mass production, has allowed us to reach the ultimate development efficiency. It is foreseeable that Polly will become a platform of ‘disruptors’ to truly empower designers and creativities via 3D printing. With Polly, more world-class productions will be shown on the international stage,” said Shi, who highlighted that in addition to 3D printed shoes, he would also cooperate with Polly Polymer on more products in the future.
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