July 20, 2024
Exclusive: Magnus Metal wants to revamp the 4,000-year-old way metal parts are made

Humans have cast metal parts in basically the same way for thousands of years: by pouring molten metal into a mold, often made of compacted sand and clay.

There’s a reason this ancient method is used today: Sand casting is inexpensive and works well with both ferrous, or iron-based, and nonferrous metals. But there is a wasteful downside. The technique requires more metal than the finished part needs, and while scraps are usually recycled, melting excess metal over and over wastes energy. 3D printing has emerged as a pricey alternative generally reserved for prototypes and low-volume parts.

One startup, Magnus Metal, is working on a metal casting technology it claims is as fast and energy efficient as 3D printing at a cost that can compete with sand casting.

“Over time, as our reliability and utilization of the machine will rise, I think we are going to be competitive for parts that are not very simple,” Magnus Metal co-founder and CEO Boaz Vinogradov told TechCrunch.

For simple pieces, sand casting will still have the advantage, but for complex parts like gearboxes, Vinogradov is confident his company can compete on cost.

To make those parts, Magnus Metal borrows elements of sand casting and 3D printing to perform what it calls digital casting. Before casting work begins, the company’s software slices a design into layers. The company then takes the negative of that shape and creates ceramic forms between four to 20 mm thick, which will hold the metal in place while it cools.

In the casting machine, metal is melted and dripped into the ceramic base. Once a layer is complete, more metal is added. Each subsequent layer melts the previous one, ensuring the layers are bonded while also allowing impurities to float to the top, Vinogradov said. The melting and mixing of the layers allows its parts to have fewer defect rates and are 10% to 20% stronger than traditionally cast parts, the company said.

Magnus Metal plans to sell its machines to customers as well as the proprietary ceramic that’s used to produce the bases. The goal, Vinogradov added, is to generate between $500,000 to $1 million of recurring revenue per machine.

“If you sell only machines, you’re going to be cyclical,” he said. “We produce our own ceramics, because in order to create a layer, you need ceramics that can withstand the shock of molten metal several times.”

Magnus Metal’s layer-by-layer technique is similar to 3D printing, but Vinogradov said that his company’s approach is faster, which helps lower costs. Each ceramic base can be reused, too, though only for a finite number of parts. And unlike 3D printing, which usually requires specific feedstocks, Magnus Metal said its system can use customer-specified materials.

The method doesn’t require expensive tooling to create the bases, unlike molds for sand casting, according to the Magnus Metal. This means customers can make parts more cost-effectively at lower volumes relative to traditional casting, the startup says.

Building industrial machinery like this doesn’t come cheap, which is why Magnus Metal has raised a $74 million Series B, TechCrunch has exclusively learned. The round was led by Entrée Capital and Target Global with participation by Awz Ventures, Caterpillar Ventures, Cresson Management, Deep Insight Ventures, Discount Capital, Essentia Venture Capital, Lip Ventures, Lumir Ventures, Next Gear Fund and Tal Ventures.

“This [round] is going to take us into industrialization this year and beta testing beginning of next year,” Vinogradov. “The goal is to use this funding to have an industrial machine that is quite robust that the customers finished testing.”

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