For the sixth time, the international Formnext Start-up Challenge has recognized young companies from the world of additive manufacturing for their innovative business ideas and cutting-edge technical developments.
Five outstanding start-ups managed to win over this year’s jury with their innovations: Addiguru (USA), AM Flow (the Netherlands), Molyworks (USA), NematX (Switzerland), and TOffeeAM (UK). Molyworks also took home the AM Ventures Impact Award, which was conferred for the first time as part of the Formnext Start-up Challenge. These international winners will now present their breakthrough ideas during Formnext Connect.
The winning submissions range from solutions for automated design and post-processing to production monitoring and new synthetic materials. In offering innovations that are largely affordable and easy to implement, the 2020 award winners are seeking to further expand the scope of AM applications.
Their diverse developments also reflect the fact that the ongoing progression of additive manufacturing will require advancements along the entire process chain. The intelligent software TOffee, for example, is created to make the process of implementing new AM designs more potent, which opens the door to better-performing components.
Through effective, self-learning process monitoring, Addiguru also wants to make AM production much more efficient by significantly reducing the costs involved. AM Flow’s end-to-end solution, meanwhile, focuses on post-processing, which often remains a challenge in 3D-printing larger lot sizes.
With a new high-performance polymer, NematX is hoping to facilitate the production of even more robust components. And finally, Molyworks has unveiled a combined mobile unit for melting down scrap metal and turning it into AM-ready powder on-site.
“The high quality of these impressive developments and the wide range of areas they cover show that not even the coronavirus can stop the innovative power of the AM industry, “ states Sascha F. Wenzler, Vice President for Formnext at event organizer Mesago Messe Frankfurt GmbH.
The debut of the AM Ventures Impact Award also put the focus on a topic that continues to gain importance: sustainability. It proved very popular with participants in the 2020 Start-up Challenge, as well, with half of them applying for this additional accolade. “Making a contribution to sustainable development is no longer just an added bonus for start-ups; it’s crucial to their success, and it also provides them with major business opportunities,” points out Arno Held, CEO of AM Ventures. “Plus, more and more investors are factoring sustainability into their decision-making, and it won’t be long before they all do.”
The Formnext Start-up Challenge recognizes companies that are no older than five years for their innovative and viable business ideas. Its distinguished judging panel consists of prominent representatives from the realms of industry, science, media, and investment.
The winners of the 2020 Formnext Start-up Challenge
External real-time monitoring
Addiguru offers an easy-to-use real-time monitoring system for additive manufacturing that it says won’t break the bank. Its monitoring technology is manufacturer-agnostic and integrates well into both established and newly developed AM units that work with metal. It involves a camera that connects to an external computer and looks down onto the powder bed from above. The US start-up’s software automatically recognizes the relevant images and sends the photos taken to a self-learning algorithm for analysis. This then detects anomalies and informs the user accordingly.
If you ask AM Flow, the “dark secret” of additive manufacturing is that an imbalance in investment (mainly in 3D printers and software) has led to a significant bottleneck – one that comes after the actual 3D printing in the production process. This was what prompted the Dutch start-up to develop an end-to-end solution for post-processing and offer Industry 4.0 technology for the AM sector. By digitalizing and automating the production process, AM Flow primarily wants to significantly reduce the labor costs involved in post-processing, which are typically still quite high. The company’s comprehensive solution covers everything from component recognition, handling, and sorting to packing and transport. It uses a variety of technologies – including 3D shape recognition, industrial image processing systems, and AI software – to automate products and processes once 3D printing has already taken place.
Turning scrap metal into AM powder
The aim of the Californian start-up Molyworks is to establish a sustainable means of recycling scrap metal (swarf or used powder and components, for example) back into the production process in order to manufacture more metal powder for 3D printing. To that end, its founders developed the Greyhound system in a garage back in 2015. It now consists of a mobile melting furnace and an innovative powder atomization system. Molyworks’ young team has conducted trials with 21 different metals, including titanium, steel, nickel, aluminum, and copper. One of the main reasons why the company won the inaugural AM Ventures Impact Award has to do with Greyhound’s potential to save a great deal of resources. According to Molyworks, metal production accounts for seven percent of the entire world’s energy consumption.
NematX AG is a Swiss start-up that was founded as a spin-off of ETH Zurich in 2020. With its “Nematic 3D Printing” technology, it plans to usher in the next generation of 3D printing with high-performance polymers and significantly surpass the current benchmarks in corresponding end-use components. NematX’s target industries include aerospace, medicine, electronics, and industrial applications in which parts are exposed to harsh environmental conditions.
Automated design software
The British start-up TOffeeAM has come up with automated design software that requires nothing more than a design space, fluid/material conditions, and the type of performance that needs to be optimized in the component in question. The company, which was founded as a spin-off of Imperial College London, now licenses the software (known as TOffee) to its customers. TOffee is capable of optimizing both individual parts and entire systems – by reducing the overall number of parts required, for instance. It is already being used in Formula 1 and in the aviation and oil and gas industries.