Many venture capitalists have supported the 3D printing industry in the last decade. Notably, Munich-based VC investor AM Ventures has been behind some of the hottest additive manufacturing (AM) companies, including DyeMansion (the first AM Ventures investment) and software provider 3YOURMIND. With 17 portfolio companies and over €100 million raised in a single venture fund to boost the industrial 3D printing market, the firm represents promising support for early-stage AM startups amid one of the toughest macro-economic environments in the last few years, with economic contraction, price inflation, and warnings of uncertainty as experts clash to predict what 2023 will look like.
Among AM Ventures’ promising portfolio companies is Additive Drives, a German manufacturer of 3D-printed electric motor components. Additive Drives CFO Philipp Arnold and AM Ventures Principal Philip Schultheiss spoke to 3DPrint.com to explain how the company leverages AM to make copper windings and rotors that help improve the performance of electric motors by up to 45%.
The road ahead
Led by a team of engineers and AM experts, Additive Drives is taking electric motors to previously unimagined levels of performance and efficiency. A spin-out of Freiberg University of Mining and Technology (TU Bergakademie Freiberg), the startup 3D printing of electric motor components, especially the winding, creates flexibility in the development process, since various designs can be validated easily and quickly without the need for tools.
Laser-focused on increasing the energy efficiency of electric motors, Schultheiss says e-mobility is bound to be a core solution for a more sustainable future.
“Additive Drives has developed the next generation of electric motors leveraging the advantages of additive manufacturing,” explained Schultheiss. “The team has impeccable competence in copper printing and electric engine design. In combination, Additive Drives checked all our boxes for an investment. Since it had a magnificent market launch in 2021, we are excited to see how this amazing journey will continue in the coming years. We are convinced that their advanced electric engines will be a key success factor for the wide adoption of e-mobility.”
That is certainly no understatement. Making sure that electric vehicles become mainstream everywhere will require manufacturers to become more resilient and optimize production processes. In addition, many innovations are bound to happen in the electric vehicle sector, from batteries to powertrain components, that can transform all vehicles.
Last year, global EV sales reached a record high of 6.9 million worldwide, a 107% increase from 2020, says the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). More than half of 2021 EV sales came from China, with Europe as a single market closely following. Ranking third was the U.S. which reached a record-high EV sales volume of 667,731, a 103% increase from the previous year.
So far in 2022, EV experts estimate that more than 10 million units could be sold, considering that global passenger plug-in electric car sales reached a new record level in September alone, exceeding one million registrations. At this rate, by the 2030s, EV sales are expected to overtake internal combustion vehicles. Even more so, Ernst & Young anticipates that internal combustion and other non-electric vehicles will only account for less than one percent of global vehicle sales by 2045.
With this outlook on the horizon, companies like Additive Drives could inevitably see a demand boom in the next decade.
As one of the founding members of Additive Drives, Arnold explained that by the time the company was founded in July 2020, they had recognized electric mobility (EMO) as the main challenge of the auto industry and decided to focus exclusively on that portion of EVs.
“With our technology, we realized customers would get quicker development, closer and shorter time to market, while increasing efficiency and power density. All three founders had experienced the problem during our time in the automotive industry. We noticed it took a lot of time to build a prototype of an electric motor, not to mention an end product. So, the intention is to accelerate the market launch of additively-manufactured electric motor components,” said Arnold.
Driving further with AM
Currently, the company streamlines the production of active parts for electric motors with CAD data obtained from designers, shortening the development time and the number of test cycles.
Focused on its ambition to reduce the time to market for electric motors, Additive Drives is printing parts that would typically take three to six months to make with traditional production methods and shaving it down to just three to four weeks. The company can make parts between three to five times faster thanks to additive technologies. Eventually, the objective is to “become the Amazon of EMOs.”
Guided by the principles that made Amazon the world’s largest retailer, Additive Drives eventually wants to help customers by churning out the quickest, fully assembled EMO.
Although in the beginning, the company had partners to make the parts, in May of 2022, a new facility offered Additive Drives the opportunity to have 90% of its value chain in-house. Arnold explains that the facility contains several SLM Solutions machines as the core technology for its copper and aluminum parts. The team also relies on other methods for tooling, printers for plastic components, and post-processing. However, 3D printing is only one decisive part of the whole value chain, making up 15% of the entire workflow.
Aside from electric cars, among the most discussed consumer topics, Additive Drives wants to support as many mobility applications as possible. Such markets as electric bicycles, trucks, buses, trains and even pump manufacturers are a target for the startup. Arnold says that anything as big or bigger than a bicycle is a potential market segment for Additive Drives, which includes any electrified flight vehicle, like drones.
Additive Drives was focused on developing a proof of concept in 2020. Then in 2021, it concentrated on technology development and part maturity. This year was very successful in terms of 100% growth and turnover, as the engineers looked to make the manufacturing process reliable and stable for series applications. Next year, the focus will be on the first series applications with one of its customers.
Even though the company has been very well received in the automotive market with its vision to halve the development time for electric motors, and earn the attention of giants like BMW and Audi, Arnold indicated two different challenges at the moment.
“As different markets go from combustion engines to electric motors, the key for new EV companies is to be quicker than the competition. That’s where we come in, helping customers with really short time development cycles, but to do that, we need to get our prototypes tested,” explains Arnold. “Also, in the EV segment, it’s not the power of the motors that everyone is talking about, but the range of the whole application. Since that highly depends on the efficiency of the EMO, there is a lot of pressure on Additive Drives to help customers create highly efficient motors.”
Arnold points out that electric motors have been around for 150 years, and there have been plenty of improvements, but we are experiencing the “switch to electric mobility, which has created a new era of e-drives.”
“Electromobility is getting smaller and more efficient, and I think Additive Drives’ 3D printing technology can help take electric motors to the next level,” concludes Arnold.
AM Ventures is the Networking Sponsor for the Bavarian Beer & Pretzels Networking Reception at the Additive Manufacturing Strategies business summit on February 7-9, 2023.