Addcomposites helps small businesses automate the manufacturing of composite parts
Composite materials – such as carbon fibre – are many times stronger than steel with only a fraction of its weight. They are crucial to the aerospace and automotive industries as well as in wind power plant construction.
There is high industrial demand for a light and strong material, but the costs associated with composites are high. Manufacturing is made up of multiple phases and implementing automation costs millions. As a result, small composite components are most often produced through labour-intensive manual processes.
Addcomposites, a start-up founded by Aalto University alumni, aims to change this. The company has developed technology to make automatic manufacturing of composite parts affordable.
'We have created a plug-and-play toolhead that can be used with any robotic arm, so many companies already own the technology required to use it,' says Addcomposites CEO Pravin Luthada.
'With our solution, even small or midsize enterprises can automate the production of composite components and scale their business.'
From a student project to the international market
It all began with a student project Luthada took part in while he was a master's student of mechanical engineering at Aalto University. He had prior experience of composites from having worked in the satellite industry in India.
The technology that was first outlined for a project course turned out to hold so much potential that the team of students decided to apply for a patent. Aalto University Innovation Services encouraged them to contact Business Finland and apply for New Business from Research Ideas funding, which the team used to refine their idea into a commercial product.
The team is now done with their first year of entrepreneurship. Today, Addcomposites consists of five employees, is part of the European Space Agency's Business Incubation Centre in Otaniemi and works on satellite-related pilot projects. Their solution is also being piloted in a number of industries, including wind power and automotive applications. At the same time, the company is developing further additions to its product portfolio.
'The first year was tough, but we learned a lot about what it takes to commercialise technology internationally. Good technology is not enough – you also need to work on sales and marketing,' Luthada says.
The first customers to adopt the technology are located in Finland, the United Kingdom and Germany. According to Luthada, the most promising markets are currently in Europe, as there are relatively few manufacturers in Finland.
There is demand for the product in many sectors, and Luthada is confident that demand will only grow from here on.
'We believe that carbon fibre and other composite materials will come to dominate many fields of industry, as they can be tailored to fit different needs. Our aim is to offer the best solution for automated manufacturing of composite components.'
Start-ups benefit from Finland's new residence permit policy
Pravin Luthada thinks that the Otaniemi campus environment is a great place for young companies. Product development is aided by the university's workshops and facilities, and there is plenty of support available to help with other matters, such as applying for funding.
As an Indian national, Luthada is also happy with Finland's new residence permit programme for start-up entrepreneurs, which makes it possible to apply for two-year permits to conduct business activities. The programme is intended to speed up the permit process and attract international experts to Finland.
The new policy started in 2018 and allows start-up entrepreneurs from outside the EU to apply for residence permits through innovation funding organisation Business Finland. Business Finland will then make an evaluation of whether the company has potential for international growth.
'It didn't take long before we received a positive statement from Business Finland, after which the Finnish Immigration Service handed down their decision in a couple of weeks. This initiative is very appealing to start-up entrepreneurs,' Luthada says.
In this series we present research-based startups from Aalto University. Each year, 5 to 10 research-based companies are founded with the university's support.