The EU-backed 3D printing accelerator 3DFactory Incubator has revealed that it has now supported a milestone 55 projects, just two years after it was founded.
Based at the Consorci de la Zona Franco de Barcelona (CZFB) and backed by the Leitat Technology Center, the incubator aims to boost promising start-ups via access to 3D printing resources. Having signed up more than half its initial target of 100 firms, the incubator has now set its sights on establishing itself as the “European reference point of industry 4.0,” ahead of its wider planned ‘DFactory 4.0’ expansion.
“Additive manufacturing technologies offer multiple advantages and opportunities to turn impossible ideas into successful projects with rapid development,” said Joan Parra, CEO and Executive VP of Leitat. “We have seen how collaborative synergies have arisen among the incubatees thanks to being part of this innovation ecosystem, and we are excited to know that this is only the first step.”
“Throughout these two years, we have witnessed the enormous talent that is emerging around a new industry that is betting on 3D printing.”
3DFactory’s happy birthday
As part of its two-year anniversary celebrations, 3DFactory’s organizers have provided an insight into how the project has performed thus far, and a breakdown of the firms it has supported. In total, the incubator has now received over 300 applications from start-ups and entrepreneurs wishing to build on their 3D printing-based business ideas.
Of these applicants, 79% of them originated in Spain while 21% came from abroad, indicating the program’s benefits in terms of domestic job creation. Indeed, incubated firms have created over 50 jobs since joining the program, with the majority involving consumer goods (19), consulting (12) and healthcare (7).
During the pandemic, the incubator has also found wide-ranging clinical applications for its technologies, including the development of its medically-validated and scalable ‘Leitat 1’ ventilator. Similarly, 3DFactory collaborated with staff at Hospital Parc Taulí last year, to help produce the Multivent bifurcator, a splitter device that’s built to optimize ICU equipment.
Elsewhere, the incubator has formed close partnerships with HP, CatSalut and the Consorci Sanitari de Terrassa (CST), and hosted visits from industry stalwarts like Samsung, Henkel and BCN3D. According to the CZFB’s Pere Navarro, 3DFactory’s uniquely collaborative approach could now enable it to make progress on the UN’s climate goals.
“In a year marked by uncertainty at a global level, the 3D Factory Incubator has been an example of the type of activity that will lead the new economy,” explained Navarro. “We are committed to promoting the development of Industry 4.0, based on sustainability and the creation of partnerships, in line with UN Sustainable Development Objectives.”
Barcelona’s growing EU hub
Although 3DFactory Incubator is led by Leitat and CZFB, it receives 50% of its funding from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). As a result, the organization operates under the ERDF’s ‘Axis 3’ directive, meaning that it’s duty-bound to improve the competitiveness of any SMEs based near its Barcelona HQ.
Owing to initial interest shown in the incubator, it has recently enlarged its floor space by 40%, from 600 sq. meters to 1,000. Within these facilities, 3DFactory has installed nine 3D printers, including seven different technologies, as well as 3D design software, quality control equipment and post-processing machines.
As part of its recent expansion, the incubator also installed HP’s Jet Fusion 3D 4200 system for finishing TPU parts, and it intends to acquire graphite-treatment equipment in the near future. Using these facilities, and 3DFactory’s ‘incubation zone’ work areas, start-ups are essentially provided with the consultancy support and resources needed to prototype, test and bring their products to market.
The incubator’s initial success has played its part in establishing Barcelona as one of Europe’s hotspots for 3D printing innovation, and 3YOURMIND has partially located its core teams in the area for this reason. In future, 3DFactory aims to build on this platform by setting up a new €100 million 100,000 sq. meter ‘DFactory,’ which will act as an upgraded base for the R&D operations of the various start-ups it supports.
Boosting 3D printing innovation
Even the most innovative start-ups often need assistance when first taking their products to market, and several programs have now been set-up to help 3D printing firms achieve this.
Youngstown in Ohio has become a hotbed for 3D printing start-ups in recent years, and the self-styled Youngstown Business Incubator has brought funding to the area to instigate growth. The organization has partnered with tech accelerator The Junction, to offer $100,000 worth of capital to promising Israeli firms there.
Elsewhere, the Formnext trade show’s annual start-up challenge continues to provide a platform on which the 3D printing industry’s most exciting start-ups can shine. Each year, five winners of the competition are granted an exhibition booth, in addition to a high-profile pitch, media sponsorship and corporate coaching.
America Makes also issues several funding calls each year to develop technologies which advance the war readiness of the U.S Army, and they’re often awarded to new firms. Software start-up Addiguru, for instance, was contracted as part of an Open Project Call in 2020, which aims to create an AI-based 3D printing program.
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Featured image shows an engineer using a HP 3D printer at 3DFactory’s Barcelona facility. Photo via 3DFactory Incubator.