BMW i Ventures, the strategic investment arm of automaker BMW, has provided seed funding for elastomer 3D printing start-up Rapid Liquid Print (RLP).
Licensed exclusively by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, the company’s gel dispensing technology is believed to enable the production of soft and flexible products using standard materials such as foams, rubbers and silicones. . Also supported by MassMutual through its MM Catalyst Fund (MMCF), RLP’s funding cycle is now expected to allow both the expansion and wider commercialization of its product portfolio.
“RLP’s revolutionary technology disrupts the 3D printing space by enabling the rapid printing of elastomeric structures of any size and complexity,” said Marcus Behrendt, CEO of BMW i Ventures. “With the support of BMW i Ventures, the RLP team can continue to demonstrate their commitment to creating high quality, low cost elastomeric products. “
What is fast liquid printing?
Launched at Design Miami as long as 2017, RLP is essentially a printing process in which a liquid object can be “drawn” into a gel suspension. Since these prints are cured during production, they do not require the use of supports and require minimal post-processing before use, while the scalability of the technology would allow the creation of large format parts at extremely high throughput rates. students.
According to the RLP, its approach is superior to conventional elastomeric 3D printing technologies, as it is not limited by speed, build volume or material defects that make them “unreliable as a traditional manufacturing process. “, So society considers it a” game “. changer “when it comes to quickly printing” high quality, airtight products “.
After its initial development, the technology was aimed at interior design applications, but RLP now says it has started working with “industry-leading companies around the world” to identify new opportunities for it. In doing so, the company aims to enter the medical, footwear, aviation and automotive industries with its unique process, and its new funding could help make those plans a reality.
“We have spent years perfecting our technology and creating a product that solves the problems the 3D printing industry has faced,” said Schendy Kernizan, CEO of RLP. “With this funding from BMW i Ventures and the MM Catalyst Fund, we will accelerate our ability to deliver a variety of solutions to a larger market. “
“RLP removes design limitations, can print multiple large-scale objects at once, and is faster than any other solution on the market today. “
RLP: now turned to success?
While the amount of funding invested in Rapid Liquid Print has not been made public, Mass Mutual says its $ 50 million CCMF fund will be used to make investments of $ 250,000 to $ 2 million, so it is low. probable that its contribution exceeds this value.
Likewise, BMW i Ventures also did not disclose the value of its investment, but the company did announce a new $ 300 million pot earlier this year, and it has long supported the innovators of the 3D printing. In 2017, for example, the venture capitalist funded Desktop Metal, a company that has since completed a $ 2.5 billion merger and bought out its biggest rival ExOne.
Regarding its RLP support, BMW i Ventures says it is impressed with the potential of gel dispensing technology to replace injection molding in “the manufacture of identical parts in high volumes”. In fact, by using Rapid Liquid Printing, the company predicts that it will be possible to reduce the production times for complex molds from 8 weeks to minutes, while removing the “design restrictions” of the molding.
BMW i Ventures also believes that RLP’s technology enables the production of parts that currently have to be built from nested parts in a single pass, drastically reducing the costs of setting up a mold. As a result, the company sees its investment as a way to “disrupt elastomeric 3D printing” and “break the boundaries of innovation” within the industry.
“MMCF was drawn to Rapid Liquid Print’s unique technology, its highly adaptable production process and its impressive management team,” said Liz Roberts, Head of Impact Investing at MassMutual. “We are delighted to support RLP alongside BMW i Ventures as RLP revolutionizes the 3D printing process and continues to grow and bring its innovative capabilities to new customers. ”
Encourage elastomer innovation
Thanks to their unique marriage of strength and high elongation at break, elastomers continue to represent a promising avenue for 3D printing of parts that are both strong and flexible. Last month, materials developer Chromatic 3D Materials raised more than $ 5 million for the development of new manufacturing technology using industrial-grade elastomers.
On the post-processing front, Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) also received an Innovate UK grant earlier this year to develop a new organic solvent for processing elastomers. At the time, the company was committed to using this funding to accelerate the R&D of next-generation chemicals that improve the sustainability of 3D printing post-processing.
Elsewhere, as part of more experimental research, a team from the University of California at Santa Barbara has developed a 3D printable “bottle brush” elastomer resembling human tissue. After creating an ultra-soft material with shape-holding properties for another project, the researchers found that they could 3D print it in inks, before returning the elastomer to its solid form via the UV light application.
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The image shown shows a material being dispensed into a gel bath during rapid liquid printing. Image via BMW i Ventures.