Carbon fiber 3D printing startup 9T Labs has just received a cash infusion of $17 million in its Series A funding round. This will allow the Swiss company to fully commercialize its Additive Fusion Solution for manufacturing carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) composite parts.
9T has a unique method for 3D printing CFRTP components, in that parts are first made in a build module, in which thermoplastic composite tape is laid down layer by layer, and then processed in a fusion module, in which metal tooling applies heat and pressure to compress the part. Clients can subscribe to either the build module alone, branded as the Industrial 3D Printing Solution, or both together, branded as the Additive Fusion Solution. By applying post-processing in the fusion module, the stacked layers are more closely bonded, reducing voids from over 10 percent to less than one percent. Altogether, 9T suggests that its technology can be used to 3D print structural parts in volumes ranging from 100 to 100,000 units annually.
The “3D Printed Composites Materials Markets – 2018” report from SmarTech Analysis suggests that the market for 3D printed composites is projected to represent a $10 billion revenue opportunity by 2028. The market analysis firm believes that extrusion-based composite systems will grow at a rate of 14.15% CAGR from 2018 to 2028. 9T Labs is one of just a handful of firms that are driving this development.
Among the round’s investors were Stratasys, Solvay Ventures, Verve Ventures, ACE & Company, Zürcher Kantonalbank and Wingman Ventures. While Verve is focused on European startups, Wingman is even more narrowly directed at Swiss firms. Zürcher Kantonalbank is the fourth largest bank in Switzerland and ACE is Geneva-headquartered global investment fund. Solvay is, of course, a materials company with a significant presence in 3D printing and Stratasys needs no introduction as the pioneer of material extrusion 3D printing.
“9T Labs has combined the simplicity of 3D printing with the strength of continuous carbon fiber composites, and that’s an exciting development for our industry,” said Adam Pawloski, VP Manufacturing Solutions at Stratasys. “Their Additive Fusion Technology leverages the benefits of printing, automated tape laying, and compression molding to deliver fully dense parts with multidirectional reinforcement. Moreover, this technology scales to the volumes of production parts needed by serial manufacturers. The end result is a solution with the potential to dramatically shift the industry away from metal and towards composite parts.”
“As a leading supplier of thermoplastic composites technologies, we are excited to contribute our materials expertise to help accelerate 9T Labs’ developments in the 3D printing space to produce structural composite parts,” adds Fabrizio Ponte, head of Thermoplastic Composites Platform, Solvay SA.
It is interesting to note that Stratasys has been spreading its money around a good deal as it expands its own technology portfolio. In one case, it led to its acquisition of Xaar 3D. In 2016, it had showcased a composite 3D printer developed with Siemens dubbed the Robotic Composite Demonstrator. Perhaps if things go well with 9T, Stratasys could bring the Swiss startup under its belt.
9T Labs is also bringing on John Hartner, former Chief Executive Officer of ExOne, as the chairman of its board of directors. Hartner left ExOne upon its acquisition by Desktop Metal, a firm with its own carbon fiber 3D printing solution. Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop, in turn, had a relationship with Markforged, the pioneer of carbon fiber 3D printing technology. If Hartner has picked up information from his brief period with Desktop Metal, it’s possible that he brings with him a wealth of important knowledge to 9T Labs.
“I have been impressed by the company’s unique solution and am very excited to help the team to bring this technology to manufacturing companies around the world,” Hartner said.
The funding round is meant to help 9T grow so that it may aid its customers in increasing volumes, as well as increase material options and create new technology platforms. One wonders what new technologies and materials this may include. If we look at the portfolios of competitors, we can expect glass fiber reinforcement, Kevlar, or basalt. For new technologies, we might anticipate a metal extrusion system, akin to the offerings from Markforged and Desktop Metal. However, 9T Labs co-founder and CEO Martin Eichenhofer seemed to suggest that metal may not be in the cards quite yet, as he stated:
“This round of investment and the combined expertise with our partners will allow us to make the next big leap in commercialization and fulfilling our mission to enable widespread replacement of metal parts with fully recyclable high-performance carbon composite materials. Through this support, we will be able to demonstrate things we could not have imagined 10 years ago.”
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