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June 18, 2023 | Tom Ballard

Techstars | Software tools for companies doing metal additive manufacturing

Runze Huang grew up in China, but now calls Raleigh, NC home. When he could not find the product he wanted, he co-founded ExLattice in 2018.

Runze Huang says he did not like the software tools that were available for companies doing metal additive manufacturing. So, what did he do? Huang co-founded a new start-up in 2018 named ExLattice that is developing the next generation of engineering software for businesses in the 3D printing sector.

Today, the Raleigh, NC-based company is one of 10 participants comprising Cohort 2 of the “Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator” currently underway. It and the other nine start-up entrepreneurs will be featured during the “Industries of the Future Summit” scheduled for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 21 at The Mill & Mine, 227 West Depot Avenue, Knoxville. To register, click here.

For Huang, who grew up in China before moving to the U.S. where he earned his Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, the start-up quickly secured early funding via a $50,000 seed grant from NC IDEA. He serves as Chief Executive Officer, explaining that he is less technical than others on the team.

Now, five years into the venture, Huang says, “Everything has been more complicated than we thought. It (also) takes longer than we thought.” Yet, as a member of the Techstars program focused on companies in deep tech, he has high expectations.

“The problem is that the additive manufacturing process is too complicated,” he explains. It can take several hours or days to prepare a build, considerably longer than it takes to actually print the part for many cases.

“We need to improve the workflow, start with increasing the speed of simulation,” Huang adds, and that will result in a faster process that also ensures a better-quality product. “Our goal is to be the fastest solution in the market.”

Like many start-ups, Huang and the ExLattice team have pivoted during their journey as they worked to find the right use cases.

“We brought AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning into the product,” he says.

That feature has allowed the start-up to predict distortions in metal printing instantaneously using the company’s proprietary simulation engine that helps additive manufacturing designers and engineers accelerate their workflow.

“Additive manufacturing simulation is not a matter of hours or days anymore,” ExLattice explains on its website. “With the ExLattice advanced simulation engine, designers and engineers can receive simulation insights within several minutes on their laptops. By leveraging advanced methods, parallel computing, and our proprietary tech, we build a simulation software dedicated to speed that is: (1) 100x faster than the traditional simulation methods; and (2) capable of running on a medium-level laptop.

Huang expanded on the speed that its simulation engine produces, saying what took one client 20 minutes to achieve was possible in just 10 milliseconds using the ExLattice software.

There are several other features that the company promotes about its product.

  • It says that users don’t have to take chances on their actual printing. “Failed prints and parts are costly and wastes of time. ExLattice software can help you evaluate the potential risks of common printing issues with no requirement to have simulation expertise. While designing, you will be well informed by our simulation software on those ‘red flags’ in metal printing.”
  • The other is what ExLattice describes as enabling “design beyond limits.” That allows the engineer/designer to focus on the design of the part and lets the software automatically optimize the pre-processing setups for part designs and preferences.

The technology is at a TRL (Technology Readiness Level) of 3 or 4, but he believes he can get it to a commercially ready level within the next six months. “We know what we need to do,” Huang says.

Why apply to the Techstars accelerator? It was to find good mentors to help scale up the business and also help with the all-important raising of capital.

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