Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito have awarded $1.5 million to 6K, the company behind the UniMelt microwave plasma platform that produces unique additive manufacturing (AM) powders. The grant will fund high-tech equipment to recycle scrap materials used in AM and battery production for electric vehicles, grid storage, and consumer electronics.
In the last few years, 6K has raised millions of dollars in funding, partnered with plenty of companies to create AM powders, appointed high-profile members to its board (including politician Joe Kennedy III), and launched new facilities. By all means, the company is expanding at a robust pace, and the latest grant will push its mission even further.
Just a year ago, it revealed its new 33,000 square feet battery material production facility, one of the largest battery material production facilities in the United States. Over the following years, 6K is set to invest $25 million into this Center of Excellence that will focus on developing new sustainable battery materials for energy storage devices.
Determined to develop materials into products that will advance industries in manufacturing, renewable energy, aerospace, and consumer electronics, the successful startup has raised a total of $94.9 million in funding over seven rounds, including a Series C $51 million investment led by V.C. firm Volta Energy Technologies.
State grants help companies expand
Announced by Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy during an event at 6K’s new battery material production facility, the new grant highlights the strong in-state supply chain. Mainly because it will fund the purchase of one new UniMelt system, which is designed by 6K, and will be manufactured by Helfrich Brothers Boiler Works in Lawrence with components from Middlesex-based industrial equipment supplier AVS.
The new UniMelt system will be used to produce metal powders, creating new opportunities to develop 6K’s future workforce in collaboration with local vocational schools, community colleges, and universities. Originally built as a sustainable materials production platform, the patented UniMelt technology is expected to enable the development of advanced materials across a broad spectrum of markets, from 3D printing to lithium-ion batteries. The new unit will join others in the company’s latest facility, expanding production capacity.
6K’s cutting-edge UniMelt tech is described as “quintessentially Massachusetts” in terms of its innovative, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly characteristics, which recycles scrap materials or used metal powder or parts that would otherwise have gone to landfills, and instead, transform them into premium metal powder used in 3D printing for the production parts.
The $1.5 million grant comes from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2) program, managed by the Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) at the MassTech Collaborative and the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. Aiming to foster and grow sectors such as AM, the M2I2 program has invested over $80 million in direct grants to growing companies, universities, and research labs across the state. Some of the previous recipients include Specialty Materials, a Lowell-based manufacturer of Boron and silicon carbide fiber products; Sheaumann Laser, a Marlborough company specializing in designing and manufacturing semiconductor lasers modules; and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
As its latest recipient, 6K “will help unlock the potential of the high-value metals and materials left unused in discarded stockpiles,” suggests MassTech Collaborative’s Chief Investment Strategist Ben Linville-Engler.
“The use of emerging technologies such as additive manufacturing helps create an ecosystem where both innovation and manufacturing can thrive. [6Ks] products will have a positive impact on industries ranging from 3D metal printing, semiconductors, battery storage and electrification, lasers, and beyond, areas which play to the Commonwealth’s strengths,” Linville-Engler concluded.
The grant comes as no surprise, considering that Governor Baker had already highlighted 6K as a standout company during his testimony to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy in January 2022. At the time, Baker noted the “incredible, innovative work” that 6K was doing in the battery supply chain.
With the new grant announcement, two words were heavily highlighted by state representatives: jobs and infrastructure. In fact, through the M2I2 targeted investments, the state plans to expand its manufacturing base, support innovations in sustainable energy technology, and attract the multitude of students that study STEM careers (a number that in Massachusetts is one-third higher than the U.S. average)
Commenting on the latest grant, Polito said, “the Commonwealth supported the growth of 6K through early investments made by MassDevelopment and we’re continuing that support with this new advanced manufacturing grant from the M2I2 program. Massachusetts plays a critical role in technologies advancing our clean energy future, including electric cars. As students across Massachusetts look forward to their careers in STEM fields, it’s my hope that they’ll discover the ground-breaking innovations being produced by companies like 6K.”
US-leading state in 3D printing
Additionally, the investment is expected to position Massachusetts as a leader in the clean production of these materials, installing a cost-competitive solution to traditional material manufacturing methods, which take longer and produce more pollutants and waste (including water). For example, the company claims its UniMelt system makes the material in two to three seconds with no hazardous waste, reducing water usage six times and reducing power use and carbon dioxide emissions.
Local government and politicians stepped out for the announcement, followed by a tour of 6K’s proprietary UniMelt advanced production plasma systems. State House Representatives Christina Minicucci, Tram Nguyen, and Jeffrey N. Roy were among the state officials present and indicated they were “excited for the potential that this grant unlocks.”
“The innovation that 6K is advancing represents the best in manufacturing and clean energy technology,” said Roy, who acts as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy and House Chair of the Manufacturing Caucus. “The Legislature continues to provide funding for investments in this sector because it not only helps supply clean energy but provides robust economic development as well. I was impressed with what I saw at 6K and am thrilled that this company has deep and strong roots in the Massachusetts ecosystem.”
Similarly, State Senator Diana DiZoglio highlighted that 6K’s innovative technology has created sorely needed jobs in the Merrimack Valley and bolstered efforts to reduce wastewater, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy use. She promises that this investment will go a long way to supporting the scale-up and success of cutting-edge technology, positioning Massachusetts to lead the way in this emerging industry.
During the ceremony, it was clear that government officials are eager to see additional programs like the M2I2 passed by state legislators. If that happens, they could offer foundational support to other Massachusetts-based startups, including many AM companies that could follow in the steps of highly successful local predecessors, like Markforged and Formlabs. Massachusets is one of the states leading the 3D printing revolution in the U.S. With such a hotbed of universities and institutions; it has the potential to spinout, found, and expand many firms that could lead the charge in AM innovation.
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