Every year at the Formnext expo in Frankfurt, the most cutting-edge additive manufacturing technologies, materials, software and applications from around the world are showcased. The event, perhaps more than any other in the additive world, functions as something of a microcosm of the industry and gives us an indication of how the AM industry has advanced and, importantly, where it is going.
One of the highlights of the annual additive manufacturing trade show, which gives fascinating and vital insight into what’s on the additive manufacturing horizon, is the Formnext Start-Up Challenge. Every year, the challenge recognizes and awards some of the most innovative startups working across the industry.
Since the winners of the Formnext Start-Up Challenge 2019 were announced at the beginning of September, we’ve wanted to learn more about their respective technologies and to hear what they have to say about winning the acclaimed competition.
Belgium-based AdditiveLab was selected as a winner of the Formnext Start-Up Challenge because of its simulation software platform for metal 3D printed parts. As co-founder Mariam Mir explained: “AdditiveLab is a novel software solution that is currently the only platform that enables creation of customized models for additive manufacturing processes simulation.”
The company offers a selection of products, including AdditiveLab Research, a software for advanced simulation engineers, and AdditiveLab Lite, a cost-effective and user friendly product for CAD and CAM engineers with less simulation experience.
Mir continued: “With AdditiveLab we provide a unique, efficient and scalable AM process simulation solution in the market that addresses the needs of a broad range of users enabling them to solve AM production challenges with different levels of complexity.”
As we know, winning the Formnext Start-Up Challenge comes with more than just the title: the event offers a range of support and exposure opportunities to the challenge winners. For AdditiveLab, winning the challenge will have an important impact on how it evolves.
“Several of the companies that started out in the Formnext Start-up Area turned into established and sustainable players in the AM field. It is a great honor for us to follow that path,” Mir told us. “The unique opportunity for us to participate this year in the Formnext Startup-Area will increase our product exposure in the AM market and provides a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of our solutions to potential collaborators and users.
“We are looking forward to a great amount of visitor exposure to present our novel product AdditiveLab, the most customizable AM simulation software solution to understand, predict, and optimize manufacturing outcomes.”
Exponential Technologies Ltd.
Latvian startup Exponential Technologies stood out amongst the many startups in the AM industry for its AI-powered software which helps to optimize the additive manufacturing process through materials.
“In additive manufacturing, finding the right process parameters is extremely complex and can several months or years,” said CEO Matthias Kaiser about the inspiration behind the company. “This of course makes this process also extremely expensive, which is a main reason for the small amount of materials that are available in the additive market. We will change that by introducing our software solution xT smart_DoE to speed up the search for process parameters, typically by a factor of 10. We achieve this by using our unique small data artificial intelligence algorithms in combinations with our Research Management System (RMS).”
“To speed up the development of new material compositions, the newest version of our software also allows the optimization of mixture type problems,” he added. “What makes our solution unique on the market is that we can optimize process parameters and material compositions at the same time, which allows rapid development of new materials with specific properties.”
Winning the Formnext Start-Up Challenge will present unique opportunities for the company both at the upcoming exhibition and beyond. As Kaiser told us:
“We already see increased interest in our solution since the winners of this year’s challenge were announced. Very important for us is also the chance to exhibit at Formnext with our own booth. This is especially important for us, as we are launching our products xT smart_DoE and xT edge, our on-premise solution at Formnext. Having a booth will allow us to get directly in contact with potential customers and partners and get feedback from the industry. We hope to gain many new customers and pilot projects with partners within the AM industry and beyond.”
LMI – Laser Melting Innovations
Based in Germany, LMI – Laser Melting Innovations has pioneered a low-cost metal 3D printing system which piqued the interest of the Formnext Start-Up Challenge judges. The technology, geared towards SMEs, integrates more cost-effective components to reduce the equipment costs. According to Mirjam Henkel, Managing Director of LMI – Laser Melting Innovations, the key to the low-cost system was simplicity.
“Our philosophy says ‘Make it simple, but significant.’ We followed this philosophy in the development of our Alpha 140,” Henkel told us. “For the implementation we had to rethink the conventional concept of a laser powder bed fusion machine in its entirety. As a result, we used a different beam source and adapted the exposure concept to the new requirements.”
Like the other winners of this year’s Start-Up Challenge, LMI – Laser Melting Innovations is incredibly excited about the prospects the upcoming exhibition will bring and how it will help the young company to grow.
“We are just at the beginning of our innovative creation phase and would like to build up an entire product family in the near future,” Henkel said about the company’s next steps. “We already have innovative ideas to automate and digitize the additive manufacturing process chain and can’t wait to put them into practice.”
About attending Formnext, she added: “We are looking forward to a direct dialogue with our customers and to learn more about their aspirations and challenges regarding the application of additive manufacturing. Next to exciting orders and the establishment of new business relationships we want to connect with investors who share our passion and are willing to financially support us on our journey.”
Also based in Germany, Glassomer has pioneered unique glass 3D printing materials, silica nanocomposites, which can be printed on stereolithography 3D printers. Dr.-Ing Frederik Kotz, one of the co-founders of the company, explained the significance of the technology.
“Glassomer developed the first high-resolution 3D printing process for 3D printing transparent fused silica glass,” he said. “We developed novel materials (called Glassomers) which can be 3D printed in a benchtop stereolithography printer. In a subsequent heat treatment, the material is converted into a high-quality transparent fused silica glass.”
Glassomer’s unique technology has attracted the interest of various industries, including the optics and photonics, chemistry, medical and jewelry sectors. “We are currently looking for partners which have market access in their specific fields,” Kotz added. “We have a material which can be used on standard polymer stereolithography printers, so Formnext is for us also a huge opportunity to get in touch with the OEMs in the field of 3D printing and bringing our materials onto their systems.
“Formnext is the leading exhibition on additive manufacturing and is a great platform to present our new development in the 3D printing business of glass. We are excited to find out about the latest trends and to impress the customers with our 3D printed glass parts.”
Spectroplast is a a spinoff from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology that has garnered attention across the AM industry for its innovative silicone 3D printing technology.
Petar Stefanov, Co-founder and CTO of Spectroplast, told us about the company’s journey: “During the short time we have been on the market, we are proud to have served more than 150 clients across many industries ranging from sealing solutions for general industries, through life-enhancing products such as customized headphones and hearing protection for the audiology market to medical models and training tools for healthcare.
“Having raised €1.4M seed capital just 2 months ago, we are currently ramping up our production capacity to be able to keep up with the growing demand for our products. In addition, we are also strengthening our quality control processes, as well as expanding the team. We are aiming at obtaining the ISO 9001 certificate next year.”
As one might imagine, being selected as a winner of the Start-Up Challenge has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. Stefanov said: “We are deeply honored to be listed among such great companies, all operating at the forefront of additive manufacturing with the common goal to make AM the ‘norm.’ This recognition confirms the growing need to make functional materials, like silicone, accessible to additive manufacturing. Formnext is the perfect platform for established companies and young startups like Spectroplast to announce latest advances in AM and to have a positive impact on the ecosystem.
“This award greatly motivates us in our mission to make Silicone Additive Manufacturing accessible to the mass market and to facilitate the next generation of customized and functional silicone products that will have a tremendous impact on many industries, especially on the healthcare and medical market.”
Stefanov added: “We are stoked to hear the feedback on our products from visitors and customers. It is always fascinating to learn about potential applications of emerging technologies such as Silicone Additive Manufacturing directly from the customers and industry experts — a setting that only Formnext can provide on such a high level.”
Pitchnext at Formnext 2019
To further support the various startups presenting their products and technologies in the Start-Up Area at Formnext 2019, the industry expo will also be hosting its annual Pitchnext event. Held on November 19, the Pitchnext event will give startups a unique platform through which they can present their products to potential investors and explain why they are worth investing in.
The winners of the Start-Up Challenge will present their pitches on November 19 starting at 5:15 pm in the Start-Up Area.