New Zealand-based metal casting start-up Foundry Lab has emerged from stealth mode after raising $8 million in a Series A funding round.
Backed by venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures and the likes of Rocket Lab’s CEO Peter Beck, the company has developed a digital microwave casting technology that makes the same-day turnaround of metal castings possible.
According to Foundry Lab, its Digital Metal Casting (DMC) technology enables applications in mass manufacturing industries that metal 3D printing cannot yet reach. With DMC, the company says it can combine the freedoms of metal 3D printing with the part production speed and economy of metal casting.
“3D printing is great for look-alike parts, but the world runs on real parts, and metal printing can never produce a real casting,” said David Moodie, Foundry Lab CEO and Founder. “We’re able to work at speeds 3D printing can only dream of.”
Foundry Lab’s DMC technology
Existing casting processes, such as investment casting, 3D printed sand molds, and die casting, typically require between one to six weeks’ production time. Foundry Lab is seeking to overcome the speed, ease, and cost limitations of current metal casting techniques with its DMC technology.
Where metal 3D printing can be slow and expensive with limited and costly materials, CNC machining will “always have limitations” to the shapes it can produce, and results in high levels of waste. Metal casting, meanwhile, is an ideal mass manufacturing approach however high set-up costs mean the technology cannot be used for anything less than thousands of parts.
Alternatively, outsourcing castings to a foundry can lead to delays of several weeks in the development cycle, and many do not take on short production runs as it is not cost-effective.
To address the drawbacks of each casting technology, Foundry Lab has developed its microwave DMC technology. DMC enables users to automatically generate parts from CAD files to multiple components in a single day and reportedly combines the geometry and design freedoms of 3D printing with the part production speed and economy of metal casting.
While foundry Lab hasn’t released a whole lot of detail on how DMC works, it is designed to be fitted into a company’s existing development workflow with no special design requirements. The firm describes The DMC – Office System as a combined hardware and software offering that enables a hands-free metal casting equivalent without pouring molten metal.
The system is currently compatible with aluminum, magnesium, zinc, stainless steel, and their casting alloys, and produces fully dense parts that exhibit “functionally equivalent” physical properties as those produced via conventional metal casting techniques. According to Foundry Lab, the post-processing of DMC-produced parts is comparable to die casting.
Exiting stealth mode
Foundry Lab is emerging from stealth mode after demonstrating the capabilities of its DMC technology to fabricate production-strength cast components from CAD files in a single day.
Foundry Lab claims its DMC system enables users to create metal parts in any casting alloy for functional testing before mass production. To prove this, the firm produced cast aluminum brake shoes from CAD file to end part in less than eight hours.
Going forwards, the company says production-identical parts fabricated on the DMC system will have applications in mass manufacturing industries that metal 3D printing technologies cannot yet serve.
Having just completed its $8 million Series A funding round, Foundry Lab is backed by several high-profile investors. Joining Blackbird and Beck are global investment firms such as GD1, Founders Fund, Promus Ventures, WNT Ventures, Icehouse and K1W1. Autonomous vehicle firm Motional CEO Karl Iagnemma and former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass have also thrown their support behind the company.
“Foundry Lab has the chance to impact industries and redefine how products are developed and we’re excited to help them scale globally,” said Samantha Wong of Blackbird Ventures.
Foundry Lab sees the backing of industry experts such as Beck, Iagnemma and Bass as integral to the company’s global growth aspirations. The Series A funding will enable the company to scale up its team as it seeks to hire new talent within radiofrequency and microwave engineering, mechatronics, and mechanical, simulation and software engineering roles.
Driving metal 3D printing productivity
According to 3D printer manufacturer Additive Industries’ CEO Ian Howe, “driving down the cost per kilo” of 3D printed parts is the “biggest challenge facing the industry.” In his view, in order to truly drive the penetration of metal 3D printing into industrial-scale applications, machine productivity and cost-effectiveness must increase.
3D printing and casting manufacturing processes have been combined in the past to create molds at lower costs and greater efficiency. In the past, machine tool manufacturer TRUMPF has deployed its TruPrint 1000 system to highlight the value of 3D printing in complex mold making, and manufacturing system provider Ingersoll Machine Tools used 3D printing to produce a 22 foot-long mold for the production of helicopter rotor blades.
Elsewhere, 3D printed molds have been used for the production of clear dental aligners and for hearing aids in the Middle East. Companies such as 3D Systems, voxeljet, and Soliscape have also released 3D printers specifically for casting and molding applications.
A potential competitor to Foundry Lab is UK-based metal 3D printing service Enable Manufacturing, which launched its new Vacuum Additive Casting process earlier this year. The company claims its technology can manufacture metal parts at a fraction of the cost of direct metal 3D printing, based on a hybrid approach to 3D printing molds and patterns for casting parts combined with a vacuum casting technique to draw the metal into fine structures.
Reportedly offering the “best of both worlds”, enable’s additive casting process can produce parts in more than 130 different metals at a lower cost than metal 3D printing and conventional manufacturing processes.
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Featured image shows a metal bracket fabricated with Foundry Lab’s DMC technology. Photo via Foundry Lab.