What Venture Funding and Unicorn Status Mean for Startup Strategies in Additive Manufacturing

While many venture-backed 3D printing companies approach fundraising with careful consideration towards overvaluation and future “down round” risks, two high profile 3D printing companies have taken these risks to a new level. Carbon and Desktop Metal have raised nine-figure funding rounds, ultimately attaining unicorn status (at least a $1 billion valuation for a private company), which helps separate them as up and coming leaders in additive manufacturing. With this level of fundraising comes inherent risks; the technology must live up to its potential across multiple applications to achieve expected growth. This technical risk is partially mitigated by extensive financial support for product development, and partnership opportunities through industry interest in such well-funded startups. Continue reading

Release of EU Sugar Quota: A Sweet Opportunity for First-Generation Sugar Users

On September 30, 2017, the European Union’s sugar quota system will be abolished to allow greater market orientation among European sugar producers. The sugar quota system was established in 1968 to set a price floor, production limits, and import limits to insulate European sugar producers and end-users from price volatility on the global sugar market. With the abolishment next month, sugar producers will be able to ramp up production and exports, resulting in a variety of implications for downstream industries. Continue reading

Closing the Loop on Diabetes Care: Focusing on the Value-To-Price Ratio for Success

Diabetes has long been an epidemic, but with increasing prevalence and rising cost, solving for the condition is now more pressing than ever. Patient empowerment and self-care have been deemed the keys to effective diabetes management, however gaps in education and ability exist. Developers—big and small—are buying into the self-care idea and are using digital to deliver on this vision. There are four primary pillars to diabetes management: blood glucose monitoring, diet, physical activity, and insulin delivery. Most hype has been dedicated to the revolutionary “artificial pancreas,” or closed-loop insulin delivery system, which automates insulin therapy. Yet, in most other aspects of diabetes management (e.g. physical activity and nutrition, which also apply to diabetics not dependent on insulin therapy), the patient cannot be fully taken out of the equation. Still, innovation is reshaping all four primary aspects of diabetes management, and while solutions other than the “artificial pancreas” still require human intervention, they do address some aspects of the feedback loop, ultimately equipping the patient with the education and means to self-manage their own condition. Our analysis reveals that select solutions – for example, genetics and microbiome-based food recommendation engines – hold an especially big promise, as they address multiple aspects of the feedback loop and come at a reasonable price. Readers should look to invest in high-value solutions that come at a reasonable price while approaching solutions that provide a fairly small value-to-price ratio with caution. In cases where a solution is lacking, readers should look to marry two or more existing solutions deemed complementary by the “flow of data in diabetes feedback loops” framework, which we establish by building on Lux’s IoT system data flow framework.

By: Noa Ghersin

Data Shows Clean Energy Innovation Has Fallen off a Cliff – but a Few Bright Spots for Growth Are Emerging

The world looks to be underway towards a dramatic energy transition, as it shifts towards more renewables and a sophisticated digitized grid. It is tempting to think of the battle as already decided: Renewable deployments – driven primarily by solar and wind energy – are growing rapidly, albeit from a small base; costs are falling; policy is directionally favorable. However, new research based on big data analysis indicates a worrying trend – innovation interest in renewables is declining, after peaking about four years ago, as shown in the figure below. Without continued innovation momentum, long-term success driven by further clean energy technology improvements is thrown into question.

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Start-Ups Demonstrate Success in Graphene-Enhanced Thermoplastics and Electrical Applications

Graphene, despite being hailed as a wonder material, has been slow to commericalize. Premature graphene scale-up by groups like Ningbo Morsh Technology and Angstron Materials led to an immense glut that has long outweighed demand. Lux emphasized graphene commercialization hurdles since 2012 and stressed that the materials-push, pursue-every-application approach many companies take is more likely to lead to failure than focused strategies. Start-ups in this struggling graphene space have since begun to eke out worthwhile applications, and Lux wanted to evaluate which areas are most promising.

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Advent of Machine Learning Into Predictive Maintenance

Over the years, numerous analytical and empirical methods have been developed to prevent machine failure, reduce costs, and increase production capacity. In the present age, companies like M2M Data Corporation and Senseye started out by developing physical models of machines based on data collected from their customers’ facilities. The data consists of parameters such as pressure, speed of motors, particle concentration in lubricants, acoustic data, temperature in the friction generating part of the equipment, and machine unique data sheets. For example, each pump has its unique “pump curves” that correlate pump rotation speed with discharge pressure and flow. A deviation of these above parameters is used to flag the plant personnel of possible machine issues, and could also suggest a specific malfunction. Continue reading

Despite Progress, Composite Repair Will Remain a Major Barrier to CFRP Adoption

In Lux’s recent overviews of the landscape of carbon fiber recycling technology and of the outlook for carbon fiber in emerging rail and marine applications, we highlighted the need for scalable composite repair technology as a key limiting factor in future growth in continuous fiber composite adoption. Repair has also been a consistent concern for automotive carbon fiber. Continue reading

Artificial Creativity: AI Levels up yet Again

We’re just beginning to get our heads around Artificial Intelligence, but the machines are already making their next move: creativity. While we still think of imagination as an innately human capability, advances in computing power are making arts as diverse as architecture, music, movies, and material design into easily-accessible, programmable spaces. In some areas, machines have already surpassed human originality and quality – as rated by other humans – and more fields are likely to fall. Continue reading

Dental 3D Printing Driven by Cost, Accuracy, and Material Selection

The dental industry requires easy and fast production of highly customized parts. As 3D printing is well-suited for fast production of customized parts, easy-to-use, highly accurate, and cost effective 3D printing solutions are becoming increasingly preferred over subtractive CNC milling-based methods. Combined hardware, materials, and software advancements are driving adoption, and the solutions allow for direct printing of dental appliances including restorations, surgical (drill) guides, night guards, splints, custom impression trays, and denture bases as well as dental models for investment casting of aforesaid appliances and other appliances, such as aligners. This insight summarizes the emerging technologies that drive this adoption and those that are likely to advance dental manufacturing in the near and long term.

In 2016, 3D printer sales to the dental industry grew by 75% compared to the previous year. One of the main reasons for this growth is the emergence of desktop professional 3D printers. These printers fill the gap between costly industrial metal and polymer printers (starting at $100,000) and low cost consumer desktop printers (below $3,000). Desktop professional 3D printers offer high accuracy, precision, and often high speed at a competitive price from $3,000 to $15,000. These combined qualities make these printers suitable for dentistry where rapid production of customized parts is necessary. Companies leading the development and sales of desktop professional 3D printers for dental applications including Formlabs, DWS, and EnvisionTEC. Formlabs has developed a desktop stereolithography (SLA) 3D printer called the Form 2 that enables direct or indirect production of dental models and appliances using photopolymer resins. The Form 2’s main differentiator is the ability to print parts with high accuracy and precision at a lower upfront cost compared to industrial printers. Similarly, DWS has also developed an SLA 3D printer, called DFAB, which allows for direct printing of dental restorations with a comparably low 20 minute post-processing time. Given the benefits of these printers compared to industrial printers, the sales of these printers are likely to continue growing.

In addition to the advances at the 3D printer level, there are more biocompatible printable materials now suitable for long-term oral use. Although biocompatible metals, such as cobalt chrome and its alloys provided by EOS and 3D Systems, have been available for more than a decade, the availability of biocompatible photopolymer resins were limited until recently. There are now more resins that can offer aesthetic and functional advantages over metals, too. For example, Formlabs, EnvisionTEC, and DWS have resins suited for direct or indirect printing of dental applications, and some of these resins come in multiple shades for mixing to create a more natural color. These resins are costly (starting from $250/kg); however, cost per application is reasonable because it is possible to 3D-print tens of dental models or appliances using 1 kilogram of resin. Furthermore, despite increased resin availability with different mechanical properties and color options, they still lack variety – in terms of strength and abrasion resistance – to suit different use cases. Going forward, there is a need for more biocompatible resins appropriate for printing dental appliances, and this need creates further opportunities for material developers. Thus, clients producing materials should consider engaging with 3D printer producers to develop new 3D printable biocompatible resins.

Another big challenge to increase adoption is throughput, and there are other technologies, such as multi-printer systems, that emerged in order to automate higher-volume part production. These systems claim to reduce time and cost for manufacturing tens of parts at the same time while automating part removal and resin-refilling tasks. Although these multi-printer systems do not have wide-spread adoption today, they are likely to influence the dental market in the long term. Currently, there are a number of companies offering multi-printer systems including Stratasys, 3D Systems, AMSYSTEMS Center (TNO), and Massportal. One example developer of such systems for dental applications is Coobx, which offers production line systems composed of eight to twelve in-house developed desktop professional printers. According to the company, their systems are capable of completing the printing cycle for dental models used to make aligners in 30 minutes, and can print up to 80 parts at the same time. Despite promising specifications, only large dental clinics and laboratories can justify the high initial costs of these systems as of now.

Last but not least, dentists increasingly use 3D scanning equipment to produce 3D models directly from 3D scan data. Digital impression solutions already have widespread use in dentistry, and dental labs and clinics that use these solutions are more likely to adopt 3D scanning. As a result, accurate 3D scanners and specific appliance design and optimization software help create better 3D models, and hence help further adoption of 3D printing. As an example, DWS has developed its own software, allowing dental professionals to edit part appearance and design.

Overall, low-cost, highly accurate 3D printers and biocompatible 3D printable materials availability are the key drivers of near-term adoption of dental 3D printing applications. These technological developments go hand-in-hand with design software and 3D scanning advances to provide the industry the tools for fast production of highly customized dental parts.

By: Tugce Uslu

Dieselgate’s Big Data Trail: What Analyzing Innovation Data Says About Diesel Engines’ Spectacular Fall

In late 2015, intrepid emissions testing researchers sent shockwaves through the automotive world by catching Volkswagen in one of the biggest corporate scandals ever: Hidden software allowed its diesel engines to cheat on emissions testing. The repercussions are still being felt today, as more and more countries are turning against the technology. The common narrative is that this was a surprising, unforeseen event, and in many ways, it was. However, newly developed, specialized, big data analysis allows us to investigate diesel innovation – or rather, the lack of diesel innovation – and uncover some interesting trends. By applying our Lux Tech Signal software tool to the topic of diesel engines, we see a suspicious decline in interest in diesel innovation since 2010, as shown in the figure below:

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