FabInventors, a spin-off created at Técnico (Department of Mechanical Engineering – DEM), won 3rd place in “BoostUP”, a European competition organised by EIT Manufacturing. The team collected a monetary prize of 10 thousand euros and a mentoring service in business development.
FabInventors was one of the candidates in the CREATE category – aimed at innovative projects that solve critical problems in European manufacturing. The team was one of 15 European teams selected regionally, and later, in the great final, won 3rd place in this category. “We are very proud. This award acknowledges the potential of our project, team, plan and technology”, points out Nuno Frutuoso, co-founder of FabInventors. “Being on the podium in this competition will allow us to continue working with EIT Manufacturing and to benefit from the innovation ecosystem that aims to maximize the potential of new manufacturing startups”, points out the Técnico alumnus.
The amount awarded will be invested in the construction of a large-scale demonstrator (1m3 printing volume). “This system will be used to perform printing services in our target markets and to promote the financial sustainability of the project”, explains Nuno Frutuoso. The mentoring service in business development that the team won includes assistance for the development of the demonstrator, mentoring and coaching, matchmaking with European partners and visibility in EIT Manufacturing communication channels.
According to Nuno Frutuoso, “technology and intellectual property protection was one of the things that may have contributed to stand out from the other teams, as it has the potential to bring a technically competitive solution to the market in a growing area (3D printing), promoting more innovation in the sector”. “Another thing was the team expertise. Professors and researchers from Técnico, with expertise in this area and with the ability to continue to innovate, were crucial in the development plan”, he adds. Finally, the entrepreneur believes that the presented business model also contributed to reach the podium. “There are no right answers, but there is a coherent plan, which has been revised since the first interaction at Lab2Market. Since then, we have participated in BornFromKnowledge Rise, Astropreneurs and EIT Jumpstarter where we tested several business models and improved a market entry plan”, shares the Técnico alumnus.
A spin-off that aims to improve large scale 3D printing
Anyone who uses 3D printers, especially with FDM / FFF technology, knows that the process takes time – extending over several hours or days – and depends heavily on the size and surface detail of the piece. Existing solutions to reduce manufacturing time result in loss of detail, requiring post-processing methods to recover the desired surface finish. FabInventors printers allow to faithfully reproduce the three-dimensional models designed by engineers, designers and creatives, in unique parts, regardless of size. “Our large scale 3D printers allow us to reduce manufacturing time by at least 50%, maintaining the surface detail, thanks to 3D printing technology with multiple collaborative print heads, a technology that we have been developing at Instituto Superior Técnico”, highlights Nuno Frutuoso.
FabInventors also introduces the concept of modularity for scalability, an efficient solution for large scale printing, multiple materials and sets of parts. “A large scale printer consists of multiple print heads and multiple platforms, individually controlled to adapt to the production needs at any given moment”, underlines Nuno Frutuoso. “Thus, large parts occupy several platforms and use several printing modules simultaneously, allowing a faster manufacturing. When it is necessary to print small parts, the system works like a ‘printing farm’: each print head manufactures its part on a platform”, stresses the Técnico alumnus. “Printing multiple materials will require different printing modules with different filaments. All these features can coexist, allowing to full use the system productive capacity”, he adds.
“My experience with 3D printers started at JUNITEC, in 2012, at a time when the first Do-It-Yourself (DIY) printer projects started to appear”, recalls the alumnus. “Professor Marco Leite, from DEM, and professor Rodrigo Ventura, researcher at ISR guided me in software component. We have brought together a multidisciplinary group with professors António Relógio Ribeiro, Luís Reis and Bruno Soares, and we developed this innovative concept for large scale 3D printing”, says the Técnico alumnus.
In 2016, the team decided to submit the patent application in Portugal. One year later it was extended internationally. “A research project funded by FCT [Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia] allowed us to study the concept in depth and produce a functional prototype with which we have developed several experiments in the Product Development Laboratory”, recalls Nuno Frutuoso.
The importance of Lab2Market programme and plans for the future
The co-founder of FabInventors has no doubts about the benefits that resulted from the participation of this project in the Lab2Market, in 2019. “It was during this programme that we started our first contacts with the market. It was an enriching experience. As researchers, we develop technology, we aim to reach the peak of technique, but as entrepreneurs and in order to be successful, we must have the best solution to our customers’ problems. Lab2Market helped us to leave the laboratory and to contact potential customers”, says the Técnico alumnus. “It is a very interesting process, the programme is based on research methodologies, but it is hard, it takes resilience to stay strong and not give up. As a result, it brings research closer to its practical applicability”, he stresses.
Currently, the startup provides large scale printing services for prototyping – engineering, architecture and design – and production of parts for outdoor advertising. “This activity allows us to build a portfolio of applications and develop the system in collaboration with our customers. The robustness of the system, which is essential for professional and industrial sectors, will be achieved by continuous improvement”, stresses the alumnus. “The most satisfied customers will be potential customers to purchase the systems in the future. It is now possible to request a quote for 3D printed prototype”, he adds.
The founders plan to formalize the startup in the first quarter of 2021. “We will finish the construction of a demonstrator by February while we close contracts with customers”, says Nuno Frutuoso. “The team will grow in the areas of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and information technology and we are going to produce and deliver large scale parts”, he adds.
The team also intends “to develop a proof of concept in Lab2ProD for printing high temperature materials”. This project also includes the Técnico community, which is invited to join FabInventors to manufacture large scale prototypes.