Belgian additive manufacturing start-up ValCUN has raised €1.5 million towards the development of a new prototype energy-saving metal 3D printer.
Unlike many existing machines, which use a laser to fuse alloy powders into parts, the firm’s novel system is fitted with a unique heating input that’s capable of processing feedstocks more efficiently, and at a lower cost. Leveraging its newly-raised funding, ValCUN now aims to expedite the development of its economical technology, and market it to clients in the automotive, robotics and energy sectors.
According to one of the firm’s investors Piet D’Haeyer, the start-up’s lofty ambitions were a key factor in their decision to support the project. “ValCUN has touched me with its passion, people and technology,” said D’Haeyer, “a team with ambition and a drive for innovation, and a potentially ground-breaking metal 3D print technology.”
“We are steadily pursuing our sky-high ambitions by thinking globally and we see potential at renowned companies such as Google and Tesla.”
A novel energy-efficient approach
Although ValCUN remains tight-lipped about the precise mechanics of its new process, the technology essentially revolves around a unique alternative to laser-based heat inputs. By replacing lasers with a more efficient energy source, the novel system potentially provides users with significant cost savings, while yielding environmental benefits as well.
ValCUN’s prototype heating process also eliminates any shape requirements for filler materials, meaning that it’s compatible with wire, granulate or even recycled feedstocks. Using such safe-to-handle materials could enable adopters to accelerate their product workflow, and allow the alloys from faulty parts to be re-used in future prints.
Based on these efficiency benefits, the start-up believes that its system is capable of addressing the growing market for high volumes of medium-sized parts, such as manifolds and structural frames. Additionally, by making metal 3D printing more “accessible and economically competitive,” ValCUN eventually hopes to tempt manufacturers from more capital-intensive industries to invest in the technology.
Having successfully patented the technology towards the end of 2020, the company’s CEO and Co-founder Jonas Galle says that it’s now seeking to expand its operations, and take a step towards commercialization. “The COVID-19 pandemic made it challenging to raise capital,” said Galle, “but the approval for additional financing will allow us to further expand our activities.”
Rolling-out the ValCUN process
ValCUN may have only just announced its capital raise, but the company already has several pilot projects in the pipeline. While the firm hasn’t revealed the identity of its potential partners, it has stated that the exploratory tests will involve finetuning its prototype, with the aim of meeting the needs of clients that operate within its target applications.
In particular, ValCUN believes that its technology is well-suited to producing near-net-shape objects and heat exchangers, essential elements of high-density batteries or IT data processing centers. As a result, the company is ambitiously targeting future clients like Google and Tesla, but in order to move onto this next stage of its expansion, it’s now seeking to attract engineers to its growing team.
“We didn’t take the easy road, developing a new technology and new hardware simultaneously – a combination that many investors are opposed to,” concluded Jan De Pauw, Co-founder of ValCUN. “From the outset, we have positioned ourselves as an international company. To implement this vision, we are currently looking for business/customer development and engineering talents.”
AM heat exchanger advances
Given that heat exchangers are used in everything from refrigerators to satellites, client demand for optimized temperature-regulating components has never been higher. While 3D printing is often deployed to meet this need, it tends to be restricted to low-volumes of large-format parts, with mass-manufacturing remaining elusive thus far.
Just last month, metal 3D printing specialist Fabrisonic deployed its proprietary UAM technology to produce low-cost heat exchangers for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL). Using its compact SonicLayer 1200 3D printer, the firm was able to print the part efficiently, while making it robust enough to pass stringent NASA testing.
In a more conventional PBF-based approach, 3D Systems was recently contracted by Raytheon Technologies and the CCDC Soldier Center to develop topologically optimized heat exchangers for the U.S. Army. Overall, the project team aims to design a part that maximizes cooling and improves the system performance of army modernization products.
Farsoon has also experimented with 3D printing temperature regulation devices, using a PBF system to produce a copper proof-of-concept heat exchanger back in 2019. By creating the spiral-shaped device as a single part, the company was able to reduce its production cost by around 35%.
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Featured image shows an engineer using 3D modelling software to design a metal 3D printed part. Photo via ValCUN.