U of Maine Prints World's Largest 3D Printed Boat on World's Largest 3D Printer

The boat, named 3Dirigo, is 25′ long and weighs 5,000-pounds. 3Dirigo is built of a 50% plastic-wood cellulose blend and took 72 hours to print. The U of Maine 3D printer can print objects up 100′ long.

There is a great deal of venture capital being poured into a company that you are going to hear a lot about. They are using a microwave (no not the kitchen variety) to make castings.

Microwaved metal parts thrill funders

Wellington startup with a revolutionary idea attracts millions from investors.

  • The New Zealand Herald
  • 1 December 2021
  • Chris Keall reports

Foundry Lab, a Wellington startup that says it makes “metal casting as easy as a microwave dinner” has raised US$8 million ($12m) in a Series A round lead by Blackbird Ventures, and supported by Sir Stephen Tindall, among others.

Chief executive and founder David Moodie tells the Herald his firm has developed a microwave casting technology that makes same-day turnaround of metal castings possible. These production-identical parts have applications in mass manufacturing industries where metal 3D printing cannot reach.

Early backers like Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck — whose company is more involved in high-tech fabrication than any other in NZ — and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund reckon he’s on to something.

The startup is still in a precommercial phase, and Moodie won’t name potential customers. But he does say that several automotive giants are showing interest.

The founder does not want to divulge too much detail on his company’s industrial technology secrets, but says its process uses “literally a microwave, but on steroids” to cast metal parts much quicker than metal 3D printing.

“It’s super easy for the user; they literally take the mold, throw in the cold metal powder or metal ingots, put it in the microwave, press the button and walk away,” Moodie said. “It even dings when it’s done. As easy as heating up a microwave dinner.”

To push home his point, the founder has even used his company’s microwave to cook a meat pie. Moodie says it only took seconds and tasted “fantastic”. And, yes, he confirms he did blow on it first.

Foundry Lab’s digital metal casting process means a complex part like a brake shoe can go from CAD (computer-aided design) file to a cast aluminium part in less than eight hours compared to one to six weeks for 3D metal printing or traditional die-casting.

Beck told the Herald: “Foundry Lab is not another 3D printing company, it is fundamentally changing the metal casting landscape. This is a great example of a New Zealand deep tech company that can succeed on a global stage, and I’m excited to back their continued progress.”

Foundry Lab has also won investment from two marquee American investors: Carl Bass, a former CEO of computer-aided design giant Autodesk, and Karl Iagenemma, the current chief executive of Motional — an autonomous vehicle startup backed by Hyundai and autoparts maker Aptiv.

“Foundry Lab’s system will unlock new manufacturing opportunities, making additive manufacturing and generative design for production parts a reality.”

Moodie added: “3D printing is great for look-alike parts, but the world runs on real parts, and metal printing can never produce a real casting”.

The former industrial designer began working on the idea of prototyping productionidentical metal castings in 2018. “I soon discovered that a foundry just doesn’t fit in an R&D lab, so instead the approach became how can an

R&D team make metal castings in-house without becoming a foundry?” he said.

Foundry has 17 staff, all based at its plant in Petone. “Hardware is hard to do remotely,” Moodie quips.

The founder says he plans to double numbers over the next year. The expansion will include sales and marketing staff offshore, but all engineering and R&D work will remain in the capital. His ideal is to hire locally, but he says given his company’s specialist niche, some roles have to be imported “so closed borders are certainly not making that easy”.

The three-year-old company, which considered itself in “stealth mode” before the announcement, had a seed round in March 2020. Foundry Lab was re-incorporated in the US after the seed round — although Moodie says he’s committed to “100 per cent” of research and development remaining in NZ.

The $12m Series A round was led by Blackbird Ventures, with support from Icehouse Ventures, GD1 and Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1. Existing investors also chipped in more funds.

“Foundry Lab has the chance to impact industries and redefine how products are developed — it’s an ambitious mission and one that we’re excited to support,” says Samantha Wong of Blackbird Ventures. “We loved the first principles approach that David and the team have taken, and we’re excited to help them scale globally.”

Last year, records were broken for venture capital investment in New Zealand.

This year, it’s been running even hotter.

“Right now today, the tech sector in New Zealand is raging,” Beck said, referring to a record amount of capital raising during the pandemic.

“I have a lot to do with the venture capital, it’s the best I’ve ever seen it, and funding a lot of startups. And I have to say that the quality and quantity of startups in New Zealand right now is the best I’ve ever seen it.”

And more VC action is on the way. Movac is now investing funds from its $250m Fund 5, while another local contender GD1, recently announced the $130m close of its Fund 3 — blowing away its $130m target.

Meanwhile, Blackbird is targeting a record-smashing $1 billion for a new fund that will launch in the new year. The Sydney-based VC firm is now playing on both sides of the Tasman, with its Auckland office and financial partnership with the Crown-backed NZ Growth Capital Partners.

High net worth individuals are also part of the picture. As well as backing Foundry Lab, Beck has offered money and mentorship to local startups Heart Lab, Halter, Partly and Astrix Astronautics, as well as backing a “deep technology” fund run by Outset Ventures.

1 Like