By GREGORY ZELLER //
Two distinct additive-manufacturing solutions are keeping a 3D-printing pioneer in growth mode, despite the pandemic’s lingering drag.
Chem3 LLC (dba ChemCubed) produces “jettable nanocomposites” that can be molded into optical lenses, electronics components and a host of structural materials, all critical to 3D printing, which over the last decade has become an everyday thing: Everything from machine parts to houses can now be “printed” in composite materials.
The rise in 3D printing – known also as “additive manufacturing” – is essential to ChemCubed, which is steaming out of the COVID-19 pandemic on the strength of multiple subcontractor deals, and has already set its sights set on new contracts and funding deals.
ElectroJet, a substrate used exclusively for 3D-printed electronics, is the company’s biggest vertical to date, but NanoCubed – a nanocomposite solution for other additive manufacturing projects – is also carving a niche, according to co-founder and CEO Dan Slep.
Electrojet is “more commercialized and geared straighter to end-users,” Slep noted, producing structural materials that are “more specific, application-dependent and generally made to order.”
NanoCubed, meanwhile, offers an array of custom-formulated resins. Combined, the different verticals cover the 3D-printing bases and have attracted attention from numerous automotive, aerospace and defense manufacturers, with manufacturing deals and federal grants piling up.
ChemCubed has already landed Small Business Innovation Research funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration and is awaiting final word on a lucrative National Institute of Standards and Technology grant.
It will soon apply for a SBIR Phase II grant – all while “sales are slightly increasing,” according to Slep.
“We’ve actually got a couple of subcontractor grants from a group called NextFlex, which is supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory,” the CEO said. “And we got a subcontract through Auburn University, supported by a NextFlex grant, and another through Boeing.”
The Auburn University project centers on a “quality-control loop system” for a next-generation 3D printer; the Boeing job involves a “flexible hybrid electronics board” – essentially, a multilayer circuit – that’s currently in the design stage. ChemCubed ultimately plans to manufacture about 400 of the Boeing boards, likely starting in September inside Stony Brook University’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, the 2014 startup’s home base.
All of these positive developments belie the crippling slowdown that was (and is) the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most enterprises, ChemCubed was dramatically affected by the COVID downturn, as supply chains and potential customers withered – but unlike many additive-manufacturing competitors, the Stony Brook company has coming roaring back.
ChemCubed is now in early talks with a biotech company interested in developing an all-new 3D-printing material; it’s also knee-deep in the creation of advanced structural materials for aerospace defense contractors, according to Slep, while busily recruiting sales reps “across the nation.”
“Being part of the AERTC has been very helpful,” the CEO noted. “They’ve introduced me to a lot of people that we’re now working with and collaborating with throughout the New York State area.
“Along with getting Empire State grants and stuff like that, it’s been critical.”
The Advanced Energy Center will continue to play a vital role as ChemCubed pursues that SBIR Phase II grant and new business-development opportunities, including the creation of what Slep called “a fully functional manufacturing line.”
“We have just enough room (in the AERTC) for a small footprint of it, at least to start,” the entrepreneur added. “It’s going to grow and eventually wind up someplace else, but right now, I think we’re definitely going to stay local.”