Meet startups that have designed CT scanners to make consumer products better

Emerged with $ 32.5 million in funding and initial customers from Lumafield Stealth, including L’Oreal, OXO and Trek Bicycles.

W.Hats What if industrial designers see inside bicycles or running shoes that doctors can portray their patients’ internal organs with the same precision? This is the basic idea behind the Cambridge, Mass-based lumfield, which has designed a new type of CT scanner that enables engineers to detect leaky seals inside their products or create long-lasting designs.

Lumafield is not the first company to design a computed tomography scanner that can be used by engineers and product designers. But traditional industrial scanners from companies like Zeiss and Nikon were complex and expensive devices, costing over $ 1 million, making them the best for high-end use, such as space. In contrast, Lumafield’s Neptune scanner is available for less than $ 3,000 a month. This allows scanning technology to be made available to consumer product companies, who rely on cutting previously opened items with a band saw and placing the pieces under a microscope to detect quality problems.

“A Formula One car is amazing, but I don’t need a Formula One car if I go to the grocery store,” said Eduardo Torialba, co-founder and CEO of Lumafield. “We’re trying to take advanced technology for the most extreme applications in the world and make it accessible to every engineer.”

Lumafield’s machines use a series of X-ray images to create a detailed, multi-color 3D reconstruction of the properties of the object scanned externally and internally. As a result, digital models allow designers and engineers to visualize and measure aspects of their products – foam density, say, or minor confusing problems – that were previously invisible.

For the past two and a half years, Torrealba and his team have been working secretly to develop new technologies. Today, a multi-million dollar valuation with াফ 32.5 million in funding from Lumafield Stealth (Torrealba refuses to be more specific) and emerging with primary customers including L’Oreal, OXO, Saucony and Trek Bicycles.

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

“College has changed my life,” Torreba said. “It gave me the opportunity to see and experience something that I would otherwise get.”

He saw how some of his professors commercialized technology based on their research, and he went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the intention of pursuing that path of becoming a professor. “I started researching and I immediately realized I hated it. I wasn’t cut out for a PhD. The program, “he says.” I really wanted to create products that would solve people’s problems. I went to a startup event and I learned that you don’t have to do a PhD. To start a company, you can just start a company. “

With a few friends, he noticed a problem that plagued many students: they were killing the plants in their home. Their company, Oso Technologies, raised about $ 100,000 in 2014 to animate its Plant Link Moisture Sensor on Kickstarter. But, like many startups, Oso has struggled. “It was the wrong time, the wrong team and the wrong technology,” Torelba said. In 2016, Scotts acquired Oso for an undisclosed amount of Miracle-Gro. “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 the 3D printing firm FormLabs after meeting Maxim Lobowski, co-founder and CEO of that company, through a mutual friend. “It was a rocket ship for four years. I have learned what it takes to make products successfully, ”he said.

“We’re trying to take advanced technology for the most extreme applications in the world and make it accessible to every engineer.”

By 2019, he was ready with his own ideas for 3D scanning technology. Place an object inside its scanner, basically a large box that weighs 3,000 pounds and stands six-feet high, and the X-ray captures hundreds or even thousands of images in multiple dimensions as the item rotates. With Lumafield’s software, engineers can then look at the restructured 3D model, where the colors match the density of the material, and the images contain detailed information about porosity and emptiness.

“It’s the hardest thing I think I can do and make an impact on,” Torelba said. “If you are not going to make an impact as an entrepreneur, you can join a big company.”

Its first customers were other companies in the Boston startup ecosystem, including the 3D printing firm Desktop Metal and the wearable startup Hoop. The company has started scanning for clients without selling the scanners themselves. Torrealba said that despite raising funds from investors including DCVC, Kleiner Perkins and Lux ​​Capital, it was important to stay under the radar so as not to be confused when creating technology and signing up dozens of customers.

“We said, ‘We’re going to make it as cheap as possible, and sell it to engineers as much as possible, and change the way people think about this technology,'” Torrealba said. “It’s a big risk. It’s incredibly difficult. “

To reduce costs, Lumafield re-engineer how its CT scanners are made, removes costs from hardware and moves to the cloud. Its scanners do not operate at very high levels of performance like the more expensive ones; For example, they show a resolution of up 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 products use its scans for inspection and quality control as well as product development. For example, cosmetics giant L’Oreal discovered that a bottle and cap were leaking despite passing the traditional inspection system. Scanning it discovered a minus 100-micron indentation inside the neck of the bottle. (A human hair is approximately 70 microns.) In another example, after changing the cap suppliers of one of them, it found small air pockets that could cause them to fail. “One very small flaw in the injection molding process is the difference between shipping millions of units and scraping millions of units,” Torrealba said.

Trek Bicycle uses scanners to understand what happens to the frame of its bike after a crash or rock strike to design a long lasting product. Saucony, meanwhile, can see the details of the sole beaded foam from the inside of his Endorphin Pro running shoes. Exacting bead distribution? Has there been any drift in the shoe assembly? Are there any slight gaps or voids?

“This has helped us reduce sample costs because we don’t have to physically cut to open the shoe,” said Luca Secon, director of Soukni, product engineering. “It simply came to our notice then. “After all, while running shoes are technically complex, they sell for hundreds of dollars, keeping expensive industrial scanners out of reach.

“It’s a place dominated by a small number of companies that are creating for the top few percent of customers. Their technology is in the hands of Boeing or Rolls Royce or Striker, but it is not in the hands of Trek Bicycle or L’Oreal and because it is very expensive, “said Torelba.

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