Automaker BMW’s strategic investment arm, BMW i Ventures, has provided seed funding to elastomer 3D printing startup Rapid Liquid Print (RLP).
Exclusively licensed from MIT’s Self-Assembly Laboratory, the company’s gel-dispensing technology would enable the production of soft, bendable products using standard materials such as foams, rubbers and silicones. Also backed by MassMutual through its MM Catalyst Fund (MMCF), RLP’s funding round should now enable both expansion and wider commercialization of its product portfolio.
“RLP’s breakthrough technology is disrupting the 3D printing space by enabling the rapid printing of elastomeric structures of any size and complexity,” said Marcus Behrendt, CEO of BMW i Ventures. “With the support of BMW i Ventures, the RLP team can continue to demonstrate its commitment to creating high quality, low cost elastomer products.”
What is Rapid Liquid Printing?
Launched at Design Miami as early as 2017, RLP is essentially a printing process in which a liquid object can be “drawn” into a gel suspension. Since these prints are cured during production, they do not require the use of supports and require minimal post-processing before use, while the scalability of the technology would allow the creation of large format parts at extremely high throughputs. .
According to RLP, its approach is superior to conventional elastomeric 3D printing technologies because it is not limited by speed, build volume, or material flaws that make them “unreliable as traditional manufacturing processes.” “, thus the company considers it a “game-changer” when it comes to quickly printing “high quality sealed products”.
After its initial development, the technology was aimed at interior design applications, but RLP now says it has begun working with “industry-leading companies around the world” to identify new opportunities. In doing so, the company aims to penetrate the medical, footwear, aviation and automotive sectors with its unique process, and its new funding could help bring those plans to fruition.
“We’ve spent years perfecting our technology and creating a product that solves the problems facing the 3D printing industry,” said RLP CEO Schendy Kernizan. “With this funding from BMW i Ventures and the MM Catalyst Fund, we will accelerate our ability to offer a wide variety of solutions to a broader market.”
“RLP removes design limitations, can print multiple large-scale objects at once, and is faster than any other solution on the market today.”
RLP: now ready for success?
Although the amount of funding invested in Rapid Liquid Print has not been made public, Mass Mutual says its $50 million CCMF fund will be used to make investments of $250,000 to $2 million, so its contribution will probably not exceed this value.
Similarly, BMW i Ventures also hasn’t disclosed the value of its investment, but the company announced a new $300 million pot earlier this year, and it has long been supporting innovators across the board. 3D printing. In 2017, for example, the venture capitalist provided funding to Desktop Metal, a company that has since completed a $2.5 billion merger and bought its biggest rival ExOne.
Regarding its RLP support, BMW i Ventures says it is impressed with the potential of gel dispensing technology to replace injection molding in “high volume identical part manufacturing”. In fact, by using Rapid Liquid Printing, the company predicts that it will be possible to reduce complex mold manufacturing times from 8 weeks to minutes, while lifting the “design restrictions” of molding.
BMW i Ventures also believes that RLP’s technology enables the production of parts that currently must be made from nested parts in a single pass, significantly reducing mold set-up costs. As a result, the company sees its investment as a way to “disrupt elastomeric 3D printing” and “break the boundaries of innovation” within the industry.
“MMCF was attracted to Rapid Liquid Print’s unique technology, highly adaptable production process and impressive management team,” said Liz Roberts, head of impact investing at MassMutual. “We are thrilled to support RLP alongside BMW i Ventures as RLP revolutionizes the 3D printing process and continues to grow and bring its innovative capabilities to new customers.”
Encourage elastomer innovation
With their unique combination of strength and high elongation at break, elastomers continue to represent a promising avenue for 3D printing tough yet flexible parts. Last month, materials developer Chromatic 3D Materials raised more than $5 million for the development of new industrial-grade elastomer-based manufacturing technology.
On the post-processing front, Additive Manufacturing Technologies (AMT) also received an Innovate UK grant earlier this year to develop a new organic solvent for processing elastomers. At the time, the company pledged to use this funding to accelerate R&D of next-generation chemicals that improve the sustainability of 3D printing post-processing.
Elsewhere, in more experimental research, a team from the University of California, Santa Barbara has developed a 3D printable elastomer similar to human tissue. After creating a super soft material with shape-retaining properties for another project, researchers found they could 3D print it in inks, before returning the elastomer to its solid form via application of UV light.
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Featured image shows material dispensed into a gel bath during rapid liquid printing. Image via BMW i Ventures.