UK-based robotics firm Q5D Technology has secured $2.5 million in seed funding to finance the development of a new multifunctional wiring and electronics 3D printer.
Known as the ‘CU500,’ the 5-axis FFF system features a changeable toolhead that can be adapted for the rapid deposition of either polymers, metal pastes or wiring, onto large aerospace and automotive parts or electronic devices.
Using the capital provided by Chrysalix Venture Capital, SOSV and the UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund, Q5D now plans to refine the CU500. Specifically, with further iteration, the firm believes its machine could be used to create wire harnesses and conformally add conductive tracks to parts, by clients across multiple industries.
“The rapid electrification of our transport systems and the increasing functionality of everything from washing machines to mobile phones, means that wiring is becoming more complex and labor-intensive,” said Stephen Bennington, Co-founder of Q5D Technology. “We are really pleased to have the chance to work with all our new investors, they are bringing a wealth of commercial and governance experience that will keep us focused and grow the company in the right way.”
Flexible, five-axis robotic 3D printing
Q5D Technology was founded in 2019, following a series of meetings of the Bessemer Society, a group composed of serial company founders, innovators and CEOs. Through these summits, CEL-UK, having previously launched a Kickstarter for its Robox 3D printer, began seeking a solution for a new 5-axis platform it was developing, that was then reliant on an oven-cured silver paste feedstock.
To get around this, CEL-UK began talking with M-Solv, which had developed a technology that could cure and sinter less-expensive copper inks using a laser, with the firms eventually agreeing to join forces, thus Q5D Technology was born.
The CU500, complete with its robotic 5-axis configuration and interchangeable polymer, silver and copper-compatible printheads, can therefore be seen as a result of their combined labors. In essence, the machine is designed to automate the production of wiring harnesses, the likes of which are often produced manually, for everything from white goods to fighter planes.
According to Q5D Technology, the CU500 is able to achieve this thanks to its built-in end effect-changer, which allows it to switch from depositing polymers or pastes to carrying out sintering, embedding or jetting on a single integrated platform. This setup also enables the machine to add layers to existing parts in a conformal fashion, unlocking the production of continuous prints with complex 3D shapes.
In addition to the production of harnesses, Q5D Technology says the CU500 is capable of embedding wire as well, to create devices with power and data applications, such as fiber-optic sensors and multi-mode data fibers, or away from the world of electronics, it can add carbon or glass fiber reinforcement to automotive or aerospace components too.
Q5D Technology’s funding round
Unsurprisingly, one of those that supported Q5D Technology’s funding round was SOSV, a long-term investor in the firm, that has previously not only provided it with pre-seed financing, but is credited with mentoring it via the ‘HAX’ start-up program.
Chrysalix Venture Capital, meanwhile, the biggest contributor to the firm’s capital raise, has a track record of backing manufacturing and robotics firms like Sortera Alloys and Applied Impact Robotics. The investor could therefore be an ideal partner for helping market the CU500’s capabilities, and although Q5D Technology’s claims of being able to “transform the wiring industry” may seem premature, its tech has attracted the attention of major players across automotive and aerospace.
Already, the company is said to be working with the likes of satellite manufacturer Oxford Space Systems as well as prolific 3D printing adopter Safran. Q5D Technology is also set to partner with LEHVOSS, the University of Exeter, Victrex, FDM Digital and GRM Consulting, through a project established to develop new materials and processes for the overprinting of high-performance polymers.
“Q5D has an exciting opportunity to transform an area of manufacturing that has proven stubbornly difficult to automate and we are looking forward to working with the Q5D team,” added Dr. Charles Haythornthwaite, a Senior Partner at Chrysalix Venture Capital. “Additive manufacturing is bringing new capabilities to manufacturers but it’s relatively rare to see such a strong value proposition for mass production.”
Previous multi-axes printers
Thanks to the conformal 3D printing capabilities that come with multi-axis robotic systems, it should come as no surprise that Q5D Technology isn’t the first to build such a 3D printing-integrated machine. In 2016 Stratasys displayed the 8-axis Continuous Build 3D Demonstrator, Stratasys that year’s IMTS.
Essentially, the system flipped the traditional FDM process on its side, enabling parts to be produced on a vertical plane with much longer geometries, in a methodology, Stratasys labeled as the “infinite build” process. At the time, the machine’s freeform approach was also said to allow for ultra-precise part-strengthening via material placement, as well as being up to ten times faster than other FDM printers.
In 2019, GKN Aerospace unveiled its own large-scale 8-axis 3D printing production cell. Commissioned as part of a $17.8 million agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the aptly-named ‘Cell 2’ was powered by laser metal deposition with wire technology, and designed to produce aircraft parts at a reduced ‘buy-to-fly’ ratio.
Elsewhere, nScrypt’s “Factory in a Tool” systems are also capable of 3D printing electronics onto conformal surfaces and feature interchangeable tool heads as well. Using the most recent of these, the new ‘SmartPump,’ adopters of the firm’s machines are now able to print circuit connections, antennas, strain gauges, and sensors directly onto curved or irregularly-shaped substrates.
For a deeper dive into additive manufacturing, you can now subscribe to our Youtube channel, featuring discussion, debriefs, and shots of 3D printing in-action.
Are you looking for a job in the additive manufacturing industry? Visit 3D Printing Jobs for a selection of roles in the industry.
Featured image shows Q5D Technology’s CU500 3D printer. Photo via Q5D Technology.