Few things have generated more excitement in manufacturing than the prospect of on-demand production using 3-D printers on the factory floor.
Impossible Objects is a step closer to turning idea into reality.
The Northbrook, Ill.-based company has raised $6.4 million and landed a big customer, electronics maker Jabil, for its pilot product. Funding was led by Chicago-based OCA Ventures, which led a $2.8 million financing in late 2014. Other investors in the current round include Idea Fund Partners, an early-stage venture-capital firm based in Durham, N.C.; Chicago-area investors Mason Avenue Investments and Huizenga Capital Management; and Inflection Equity Partners, which is based in Silicon Valley.
Impossible Objects began showing off its Model One printer in the spring at a major trade show, where it won a top honor for innovation. It also signed up another large manufacturer, which it declined to disclose, as a pilot customer.
The company has grown to 16 employees from three just a couple of years ago. It expects a commercial launch of its printer next year.
Impossible Objects uses a process that is more like an inkjet printer than the common approach to 3-D printing, which is more like a hot-glue gun, says Bob Swartz, the company's chairman and the inventor of the technology.
"We see the ability to use standard graphic arts methods to get to speeds of hundreds of pages per minute, which would compete with injection molding," he says.
Impossible Objects is able to use polyetheretherketone, which has resistance to high temperatures and to chemicals, along with Kevlar, carbon fiber and fiberglass. That opens the door to use in aerospace, automotive, medical-device and electronics markets.
"The more the customers understand 3-D printing, the more excited they get about what we're doing," said CEO Larry Kaplan, who previously was CEO of digital mapping company Here, formerly known as Navteq. "They're seeing the speed and material properties are significantly better, which means you can start to make end parts, not prototypes."