10 3D Printing Startups To Watch Out For In 2020
12 February 2020
3D printing startups play an important role within the additive manufacturing industry: they help to fill in existing gaps and drive innovation in technology, materials and applications.
To keep up to date with the 3D printing startups landscape, we’ve compiled a list of 10 promising 3D printing startups that, with their exciting vision and innovation, are helping to drive the industry forward.
Take a look at our 2019 list of 25 exciting 3D printing startups.
1. One Click Metal
Year founded: 2019
Despite the progress in laser powder-bed metal 3D printing, the technology remains incredibly expensive to adopt in-house, especially for small companies and educational institutions. One Click Metal, a spin-off of the German machine manufacturer, TRUMPF, is looking to tackle this issue by developing a more affordable metal 3D printer.
Debuted at formnext 2019, the MPrint 3D printer is positioned as an affordable solution suitable for SMEs and new adopters of 3D printing. One Click Metal sells the printer for around €55,000, which is a fraction of the cost of comparable systems.
One of the key developments that has enabled the less expensive price tag is a cheaper laser. Since lasers are one of the most costly parts of a metal 3D printer, One Click Metal has decided to develop a less expensive alternative.
The new diode laser has a different wavelength than off-the-shelf lasers; however, it can deliver the same energy level, according to the company.
It’s encouraging to see powder bed fusion technology being democratised. Ultimately, this democratisation could accelerate innovation in and adoption of metal 3D printing.
2. Laser Melting Innovations
Year founded: 2017
The trend of democratising the accessibility of metal 3D systems is clearly gaining traction, with another German startup on our list developing an affordable 3D printing solution.
Laser Melting Innovations (LMI), a spin-off from the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT), launched its low-cost laser-based 3D printer, Alpha 140 in 2018. In 2019 the Alpha 140 won the Formnext Start-up Challenge.
According to the company, LMI aims to overcome existing barriers to 3D printing adoption by making the technology easier to use for inexperienced users.
To achieve these goals, LMI has integrated its system with more cost-effective components to reduce equipment costs. For example, the Alpha 140 uses a diode laser, which is smaller and less prone to damage than a CO2 laser. And, instead of expensive scanner systems, the Alpha 140 is equipped with a Cartesian-motion laser system.
Thanks to these changes, the company has been able to lower the price of its machine to under€100,000.
The system adds another alternative to the growing market of lower-cost, compact metal 3D printers and should be of interest to research institutions and small businesses looking to adopt metal 3D printing.
Year founded: 2018
Silicones are one of the fastest-growing materials for 3D printing. It’s a soft stretchable polymer, known for its biocompatibility, thermal conductivity and heat resistance.
However, silicones are notoriously challenging to 3D print, especially via extrusion-based 3D printers, due to the viscosity of the material.
One company pushing the envelope for silicone 3D printing is a Swiss material science startup, Spectroplast.
Spectroplast has innovated silicone 3D printing by adapting the material to a Stereolithography, or more specifically, a Digital Light Processing (DLP) method. DLP With the In DLP 3D printing process, a build platform is submerged in a tank of liquid polymer. A digital light projector screen then flashes an image of each layer onto the build platform, with the process repeating until the part is complete. The process produces parts with a better surface finish and higher resolution than extrusion-3D printed parts.
Scalability is another benefit Spectroplast seems to have unlocked with its technology.
“Existing methods of printing silicone aren’t industrially scalable in terms of speed and throughput. However, we’ve managed to increase the speed by at least 10 times compared to conventional 3D printing methods for silicone,” says Petar Stefanov, speaking in an interview with AMFG.
The combination of improved surface finish and high throughput makes Spectroplast’s process one of the few solutions for industrial silicone 3D printing available on the market.
Currently, the company operates a silicone 3D printing service bureau, with healthcare applications being one of its key focus areas.
4. Incus GmbH
Year founded: 2019
Incus GmbH, a spin-off of Austrian ceramic 3D printer vendor, Lithoz, debuted its new metal photopolymerisation 3D printing process at Formnext in 2019.
The technology behind its new 3D printer is based on vat polymerisation techniques like SLA and DLP, which are typically used with liquid resin materials. Incus, on the other hand, has developed a process that enables the curing of a photoreactive, metal-filled material using a powerful light projector. Parts 3D printed using the technology must undergo debinding and sintering in order to achieve their final properties.
Potential advantages of this process over other metal AM techniques include an ability to work with new ‘non-weldable’ metals, improved safety (due to the avoidance of airborne powders), increased accuracy and, since it’s light-based, faster build speeds.
The technology was brought to market in late 2019 under the Hammer series of 3D printers and is now in operation for several beta customers. Incus is continuing to fine-tune its technology and is looking to unlock more applications across the medical, automotive, aerospace and jewellery sectors.
Year founded: 2017
Multi-material 3D printing has been around for a while, but to date, the technology has primarily been used for prototyping purposes. MIT spin-off, Inkbit, is looking to take the technology to a new level of end-part production.
The company has developed a 3D printer, called Snapper, which currently features 16 print heads that can deposit liquified polymer materials to create multi-material parts.
According to CEO of Inkbit, Davide Marini, ‘the key differentiating aspect of our technology is a vision system, integrated inside our 3D printer, that makes the machine intelligent.’ This enables the machine to scan each layer at micron resolution immediately after it was deposited. If there are any deviations from the programmed geometry, the machine can correct them in real time by remapping the next layer.
The Snapper ‘is designed for production, for making parts that contain, for example, both a soft and a rigid area, in the same build.’
Inkbit plans to start shipping the first machines to select customers within the next 18 months, so it will take time to see if the benefits promised by the technology will be fulfilled. In any case, the technology is a promising step forward for multi-material 3D printing and is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Year founded: 2014
One company looking to innovate the field of large-scale metal 3D printing is Dutch robotics startup, MX3D.
The company hit the headlines in 2018 by 3D printing a stainless steel bridge. The project, which took more than a year to complete, showcased the potential of metal 3D printing to deliver large, functional architectural objects.
MX3D has developed a metal 3D printing system that can print metal parts without supports, by combining a multi-axis robotic arm with a welding machine.
The process is called Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM), in which metal wire is pushed through a feed nozzle where it is melted by an electric arc and successively added onto the build platform.
More recently, the MX3D team used its technology to 3D print an aluminium bike frame. The futuristic-looking frame was designed with the help of generative design software and 3D printed in under 24 hours, showcasing the high printing speed of MX3D’s technology.
With its technology, MX3D aims to introduce the advantages of metal 3D printing to new and high-value industries.
The company believes that the automated 3D production of computer-generated parts and structures using robots is the future of manufacturing. The combination of 3D printing and robotics is a promising way to create large objects more accurately and repeatedly, whilst achieving digitised, smart manufacturing.
Year founded: 2012
Desktop 3D printing technology has been evolving rapidly, with a lot of innovation in the extrusion 3D printing segment. One company pushing the envelope for desktop extrusion 3D printers is BCN3D.
Founded in CIM-UPC, a technological centre of the Technical University of Catalonia, BCN3D has developed the Independent Dual EXtruder (IDEX) technology, featuring dual-extrusion 3D printing.
By equipping its 3D printers with two separate extruders, BCN3D is able to double productivity compared to conventional desktop 3D printers.
More recently, the company also added the third 3D printer to its arsenal, dubbed the Epsilon. The new machine has several features designed for the industrial market, including compatibility with industrial-grade materials like polyamide and fibre-reinforced filament and an enclosed passive heated build chamber.
Since its inception, BCN3D has sold more than 5,000 3D printers through its network of 60 global distribution partners. BCN3D printers are used for prototyping, functional validation and the manufacturing of tools and fixtures.
With customers like BMW, Samsung, Louis Vuitton, Nissan and NASA on the startup’s roster, and a last-year seed funding of €2.7 million, BCN3D is on a strong growth trajectory.
Year founded: 2013
Slow printing speeds remain one of the key bottlenecks to using extrusion-based polymer 3D printers on a larger scale. US-based 3D printer manufacturer, Essentium, aims to overcome this issue by developing what it says is the fastest extrusion 3D printer.
First unveiled at Formnext 2018, Essentium’s High Speed Extrusion (HSE) platform incorporates a number of features that could potentially make it one of the fastest available.
For example, the HSE uses linear motors, meaning that the printhead can move at a much greater speed (1 m/sec) and with greater accuracy. The motion system reportedly has an accuracy of up to 30 microns positioning — which is quite remarkable at such speeds.
Another element making this system quite unique is Essentium’s proprietary nozzle, the HSE Hozzle™, which can heat from 20°C to 500°C in 3 seconds. This also means that the system, priced at around $75,000, is suitable for processing high-temperature materials like PEEK.
By optimising the motions, extrusion and temperature, Essentium could be on track to set a new benchmark for extrusion 3D printing
9. 9T Labs
Year founded: 2018
In addition to polymer and metal 3D printing, there is a growing focus on 3D printing composite materials. Fibre-reinforced composites have a number of benefits for manufacturers, including the ability to produce lightweight parts that still possess high strength and durability.
Only a few 3D printing composite solutions are currently available on the market, but 9T Labs promises to bring one more to the table.
The Swiss company has developed an add-on for extrusion 3D printers, which is made up of a carbon fibre PA12 spool, material box and printhead with dual extrusion, thus providing existing machines with carbon fibre 3D printing capabilities.
In addition, the company is developing its own complete solution, called the Red Series.
9T Labs claims it can print parts with continuous carbon fibres with less than two per cent void content and up to sixty per cent volumetric carbon composite content. The key to this achievement lies in a post-processing Fusion Unit, which applies high heat and pressure to a part, resulting in a part with ‘aerospace quality’.
In January, the company closed a $4.3 million seed funding round. With the recent investment, 9T Labs will be commercialising its technology this year and hopefully bringing a new exciting alternative to the composite 3D printing market.
10. Additive Manufacturing Technologies
Year founded: 2017
Founded less than three years ago, Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) has become one of the main providers of 3D printing post-processing equipment.
With post-processing being one of the key bottlenecks to scaling 3D printing for mass production, AMT is looking to overcome post-processing challenges through automation.
The key to this lies in AMT’s PostPro3D technology, a chemical vapour smoothing process that uses proprietary chemicals to smooth the surface of a 3D-printed polymer part. Additionally, the company is developing a de-powdering system that will help remove excess powder for SLS parts.
With a recent $5.2 million Series A funding, AMT will be launching its Digital Manufacturing System (DMS) later this year. DMS is said to offer an automated solution linking the elements of the post-processing workflow like de-powdering, smoothing, colouring and inspection in a fully automated setting.
Post-processing automation is one of the biggest trends driving 3D printing into 2020 and beyond. Achieving an automated post-processing workflow will ultimately help to establish 3D printing as a volume production method.
3D printing startups: Driving the industry forward
The landscape for 3D printing startups is rapidly evolving, with new companies appearing every year.
In this article, we’ve explored the startups that look set to make metal 3D printing more accessible and those that are innovating the field of polymer 3D printing. Other startups are entering largely untapped segments like composite, silicone and multi-material 3D printing.
Ultimately, it’ll be exciting to see how the future of these startups will unfold, as they grow and mature together with the industry.