TopologX — Startup of The Week
#BIFINCS16 Incubator Program Spring 2016 | Netherlands
From the Royal Dutch Marines, to managing sales at a chemical production company, to co-founding TopologX — Pedro Sterken. This week, the co-founder of TopologX shares his journey of how and why he started his B2B company TopologX, and what his goals for the future are.
“TopologX re-uses waste produced during the additive manufacturing processes to create the metal powder.”
What is the problem?
When we’re talking about printing, companies are frequently focused on the print system itself or the design of its parts. Instead they could be focusing on the limited choice of available materials and related high switching costs. Due to the possibility to place material only where needed, one is able to produce complex parts with less weight, better performance and with an efficient material use. That’s exactly what TopologX does.
Achieving such performance is possible with a relatively new technique called Additive Manufacturing (AM), that more and more companies start to discover and adopt nowadays. The term describes diverse technologies that produce 3D objects by adding layer-upon-layer of a certain material.
“Conventional subtractive manufacturing methods usually produce up to 80% waste. With new techniques like additive manufacturing, waste can be reduced to less than 40%.
It all started a couple of years ago when Pedro Sterken worked as a Sales Manager at a company that produces chemicals. Since his tasks also included looking for applications for powders and project management, he learned how to co-develop new materials. In 2012, Pedro started researching the field of Additive Manufacturing. With a particular interest in metal printing, powder metallurgy and operational excellence, he saw a big opportunity in improving the production and development of metal powder alloys.
“I thought to myself — what would happen if I combine these two techniques?”
The older more conventional technique Subtractive Manufacturing (SM) is a process by which 3D objects are constructed by successively cutting material away from a solid block of material. In general, conventional subtractive techniques have a lot of advantages in manufacturing. These include lower costs of manufacturing, faster throughput time or scalability, to list a few. However, unfortunately, this process produces a huge amount of metal alloy waste. What’s more, this waste also looses its value due to the lack of traceability.
“All the disadvantages can be changed into advantages! Waste from Subtractive Manufacturing can be used to produce high quality metal alloy powder for Additive Manufacturing.”
The paradigm shift happened when Pedro looked at how the newer Additive Manufacturing and old-school, conventional techniques such as Subtractive Manufacturing could strengthen each other — “I thought to myself — what would happen if I combine these two techniques?”, he tells us. According to TopologX, all the disadvantages can be changed into advantages and waste from traditional Subtractive Manufacturing can be used to produce high quality metal alloy powder for the newer Additive Manufacturing.
How is the problem solved?
With experience at GEA GROUP, one of the largest suppliers of process technology for the food industry and for a wide range of other industries, Pedro Sterken and his co-founder Hans Ingeveld say there is a lot of room for improvement in powder production for Additive Manufacturing. “The key to success is improving the supply chain and shortening the loop of material flow to get high traceability and reduce costs”, they say.
TopologX re-uses waste produced during the additive manufacturing processes to create the metal powder. The company claims to enable the production of more different powders on demand, with less change over- and throughout time, as well as lower the cost of custom metal powders. The way in which TopologX creates more value for waste is just an example in which the company is able to produce high quality metal powders with greater customization.
By combining two techniques — old, conventional techniques to produce chips, and the newer, additive manufacturing to produce powder — they raised process flexibility with customization and reduced time needed to produce such a metal powder. Instead of one-day change over time, Topologx claims to do it in 20 minutes!
How does it work?
Currently, TopologX is busy with testing individual systems (Proof of Principle), and is working on three different projects. All of them are aiming at producing metal powder out of waste. Pedro Sterken and his co-founder, focus on three main industries: aerospace, dental, machinery, as well as diverse university that have access to the 3D printing facilities. They can already proudly announce they cooperation’s with Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven in Leuven, Belgium.
“You buy metal powder, you get the machine for free — you only pay for the materials you use.”
The company targets small SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) with DMLS system (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). In case the company uses conventional techniques, they can provide Topologx with small metal parts (chips), and in return they will be refunded with a metal powder. To get a clear picture on what the demands of the industry are, Topologx does not focus on SMEs only. “We also talked to Philips last week. As a potential customer and end user”, says Pedro.
The prices of metal powder for AM range between 200 and 800 eur/kg. To give an example, for a titanium powder one has to pay around 500 euro per kilogram, and for cobalt chrome the price is 340 euro per kilogram. Topologx’s main goal is to make their customer pay only for the material he or she uses — “you buy powder, you get the machine for free — you only pay for the material you use” — tells us Pedro.
“That is our Proof of Concept and we hope we will get some funding for that,” says Pedro Sterken. Until the end of year 2016, Topologx will be focusing on producing metal powder in larger quantities, which will amount to even 400 kg (200 kg titanium, 200 kg cobalt chrome). At the moment they are trying to raise some funds for the production.
Having asked Pedro where he wants to be with his project in a year from now, he confidently replied: “we hope to get funding for proof of concepts, four contract customers with an order quantity of a minimum of 1000 kg, which would be enough to have a break even with our investment.” We wish Pedro and Hans all the best with their clearly determined goals for Topologx and the future of metal powders.