Meet the startup that designed CT scanners to improve consumer products

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Lumafield emerges from stealth with $32.5 million in funding and early customers including L’Oréal, OXO and Trek Bicycle.

OWhat if industrial designers could see the inside of a bicycle or a running shoe with the same precision that doctors can visualize the internal organs of their patients? This is the basic idea behind Lumafield, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who has designed a new kind of CT scanner that gives engineers the ability to look inside their products to identify leaky seals or create more durable designs.

Lumafield isn’t the first company to design CT scanners that could be used by engineers and product designers. But traditional industrial scanners from companies like Zeiss and Nikon were complex and expensive instruments, costing over $1 million, making them ideal for high-end use cases like aerospace. Lumafield’s Neptune scanner, on the other hand, is available for less than $3,000 per month. This makes scanning technology available to consumer product companies, which previously relied on cutting open items with a bandsaw and putting parts under the microscope to check for quality issues. .

“A Formula 1 car is amazing, but if I’m going to the grocery store, I don’t need a Formula 1 car,” says Eduardo Torrealba, co-founder and CEO of Lumafield. “We try to take the technology developed for the most extreme applications in the world and make it accessible to all engineers.”

Lumafield’s machines use a series of X-ray images to create a detailed, multi-colored 3D reconstruction of a scanned object’s features, both exterior and interior. The resulting digital models allow designers and engineers to visualize and measure aspects of their products (foam density, for example, or minor misalignment issues) that were previously invisible.

Over the past two and a half years, Torrealba and his team have operated under the radar to develop the new technology. Today, Lumafield is emerging from stealth with $32.5 million in funding at a valuation of hundreds of millions of dollars (Torrealba declines to be more specific) and early customers that include L’Oréal, OXO, Saucony and Trek Bicycle.

Torrealba, a 34-year-old Hispanic-American, grew up in a working-class family in Arlington, Texas, where his father ran an air conditioning repair business. He went to Baylor University in Waco on a full scholarship from the Gates Foundation Millennium Scholars Program.

“University changed my life,” says Torrealba. “It gave me the chance to see and experience things that I would have otherwise.”

He saw how some of his professors had commercialized technology based on their research, and he went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the intention of taking that path to becoming a professor. “I started doing research and instantly realized I hated it. I wasn’t cut out for a Ph.D. program,” he says. “I really wanted to create products that solved people’s problems. . I went to a startup event and learned that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to start a business, you can just start a business.

With some friends, he targeted a problem that afflicts many students: they were killing their houseplants. Their company, Oso Technologies, raised nearly $100,000 on Kickstarter in 2014 to bring its Plant Link humidity sensor to life. But, like many startups, Oso struggled. “It was the wrong time, the wrong team and the wrong technology,” says Torrealba. In 2016, Scotts Miracle-Gro acquired Oso for an undisclosed amount. “I didn’t make any money from it, but the lessons learned were extremely valuable,” he says.

Meanwhile, in 2014, he moved to Boston to become director of engineering at 3D printing company Formlabs after meeting that company’s co-founder and CEO, Maxim Lobovsky, through a mutual friend. . “It was a rocket ship for four years. I learned what it takes to create successful products,” he says.

“We try to take the technology developed for the most extreme applications in the world and make it accessible to all engineers.”

In 2019, he was ready with his own idea of ​​3D scanning technology. Place an object inside its scanner, essentially a large box that weighs 3,000 pounds and is six feet tall, and the X-rays capture hundreds, if not thousands, of images in multiple dimensions as the item rotates. Using Lumafield’s software, engineers can then peer into the reconstructed 3D model, where colors match material densities and images include detailed information about porosity and voids.

“It’s the hardest thing I think I can work on and have an impact on,” says Torrealba. “If you’re not going to make an impact as an entrepreneur, you might as well join a big company.”

His first clients were other companies in Boston’s startup ecosystem, including 3D printing company Desktop Metal and wearables startup Whoop. The company also started out doing scans for customers rather than selling the scanners themselves. Torrealba says it was important to stay under the radar despite raising funds from investors such as DCVC, Kleiner Perkins and Lux ​​Capital so as not to be distracted while building the technology and signing dozens of clients.

“We said, ‘We’re going to build this as cheaply as possible, and sell to as many engineers as possible and change the way people think about this technology,'” Torrealba says. “It’s a big risky bet. It’s also incredibly difficult.

To reduce costs, Lumafield redesigned the way its CT scanners are built, removing hardware costs and moving to the cloud. Its scanners don’t perform at as high a performance level as more expensive ones; for example, they display a resolution down to 25 microns instead of 9 microns, which is sufficient for most products even if not good enough for an aircraft turbine engine.

Today, its consumer customers use its scanners for inspection and quality control as well as product development. Cosmetics giant L’Oréal, for example, discovered that a bottle and cap were leaking despite passing traditional inspection measures. Scanning it, he discovered a tiny 100-micron indentation inside the neck of the bottle. (A human hair is about 70 microns.) In another case, after switching suppliers on one of his caps, he found tiny air pockets that could have caused them to fail. “A very small flaw in an injection molding process is the difference between shipping millions of units and disposing of millions of units,” Torrealba explains.

Trek Bicycle uses the scanner to help understand what happens to its bike frames after a crash or rock impact in order to design a more durable product. Saucony, meanwhile, can look inside its Endorphin Pro running shoes to see the pearl foam detailing in the sole. Is the distribution of the balls demanding? Was there a drift in the assembly of the shoe? Are there any small holes or voids?

“It helped us reduce the cost of samples because we don’t have to physically open the shoes,” says Luca Ciccone, product engineering manager at Saucony. “It’s what I wanted for 20 years. “After all, although running shoes are technically complex, they sell for a few hundred dollars, putting expensive industrial scanners out of reach.

“This is a space dominated by a small number of companies that build for the wealthiest few percent of customers. Their technology is in the hands of Boeing or Rolls Royce or Stryker, but it’s not in the hands of Trek Bicycle or L’Oreal and that’s because it’s way too expensive,” says Torrealba.

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