Polly Polymer, a stereolithography, or SLA 3D printing startup in China, has raised nearly 100 million yuan ($15.5 million) in a Series A+ funding round from a group of investors led by Vitalbridge.
Polly Polymer offers various high-speed SLA 3D printing-related services that target corporate customers, including research and development on materials and equipment, as well as software development.
The company’s smart plant, currently under construction in China’s Anhui Province, is going to be a “dark factory” — meaning it will not require lighting. By controlling production-flow through cloud computing, the factory will be completely unmanned.
High speeds will be another key feature of the factory. In the case of shoe production, for example, it will be possible to 3D-print the soles of over 10,000 pairs of shoes a day. By replicating a production line, it will also be possible to quickly expand manufacturing capacity.
When a big brand makes a new pair of shoes, as many as 40 sizes are usually necessary — 22 sizes for children, eight for adult women and 10 for adult men.
If it is a new pair of sports shoes, four different foot breadths are usually needed for each adult size. That is why a total of more than 90 types of metal molds, including those for children’s shoes, sometimes need to be produced.
In such cases, it can take more than 30 days just to prepare all the metal molds. Including preparations such as making a trial product, it typically takes 2 months to start manufacturing a new pair of shoes.
Polly Polymer says its smart plant will allow this preparatory work to be completed in the blink of an eye just by being synchronized with data in the cloud.
The company’s high-speed SLA 3D printing technology can also be applied to other daily goods and industrial products in sectors including medicine and aerospace.
Although 3D printing has a history of more than 30 years, its market has yet to see exponential growth due to three major constraints — material performance, printing speed and cost.
Polly Polymer started from R&D on basic materials and jointly established China’s first 3D printing material laboratory with a research institute affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
The company then conducted R&D on and selected new printing materials, taking into consideration factors such as speed, performance and cost.
Furthermore, by utilizing the characteristics of the selected materials, the company developed Hindered Asynchronous Light Synthesis, or HAS, 3D printing technology that makes it possible to print at a speed said to be 100 times faster than conventional 3D printers.
In the case of shoe production, it has become possible to print one shoe sole in around 20 minutes and the cost of 3D printing has become almost equal to the cost of injection molding using metal molds in the case of small-scale production.
McKinsey & Company, a U.S.-based global management consulting firm, predicts the size of the 3D printing market will grow to up to $550 billion by 2025. U.S.-based 3D Systems and Formlabs are well-known players in the SLA 3D printing market. In China, competition between UnionTech and LuxCreo is drawing attention. Established in 2017, Polly Polymer’s sales have exceeded 10 million yuan, and it has already achieved profitability.