Industrialising the production of complex carbon composites

ESA BIC Bavaria incubatee Cevotec offers a completely new patch-based CFK production with Fiber Patch Placement (FPP) technology to market. By industrializing the production, an automated, patch-based production technology for carbon fibre preforms the production. This is a completely new approach of manufacturing. As the one-stop shop for this technology, the Munich startup provides customised production systems that include an easy-to-use software suite for patch laminates. Cevotec’s customers benefit from better and lighter products of highest quality. All through scalable serial production techniques devised right in Germany.

ESA BIC Manager Cornelia Gebath (CG) interviews Thorsten Gröne (TG), Managing Director and Co-Founder Cevotec.

CG: Hello Thorsten, many thanks for your time. Please give us a sneak peek of your product and the team behind it.
TG: Since our big market launch at the JEC World tradeshow in Paris, it’s no longer a sneak preview: We develop and sell an industry 4.0 solution for the automated production of complex fiber composites. SAMBA is our high-tech production system that is enables by our proprietary CAD-CAM software ARTIST STUDIO. In addition, we offer a range of services related to the design and production of composites based on the Fiber Patch Placement technology. On the picture, you see our team all dressed up at the tradeshow during the product launch.

CG: What was your company’s biggest challenge so far?
TG: We have developed an industry-ready solution from prototype is less than a year. That was tough and a lot of hard work! In addition to the technical challenges, we found that finding the right talent and building a great organization are ongoing challenges that need to be mastered. Currently, it’s our sales efforts that constantly challenge us. We disrupt a long-standing paradigm of the composites industry and therefore, manufacturers ask many questions before adaption our solution. That takes more time than initially expected.

CG: Can you explain the three main ingredients of your recipe for success?
TG: Technology: We had to take important decisions on what to produce ourselves and what to outsource. You can’t do everything by yourself and you need partners. In our case, software is a key enabler for everything we do on the hardware side, therefore we decided to develop our software solution fully inhouse. Initially, it felt like an impossible task given the short timeline we’ve set ourselves, but it was probably the most crucial decision in our business model and it paid off. As a “hardware startup”, the software team was our biggest developer team in our seed phase. In contrast, we’ve outsourced the assembly of our production system to an experienced automation partner. While the production system is of course also key to our business model, we didn’t see as much value in the assembly as in the software, which is ultimately controlling what the system actually produces.

Our Team: We’ve been very conscious about whom to hire, and we pay close attention to the performance of our people, especially in the initial months. We coach and support as much as we can, but we also expect a self-starter attitude and high quality of work. If we realize that a new hire doesn’t work out, we took fast decisions to protect our team and our progress. Finding the right talent is an eternal challenge, but once you found the perfect person for an open position, it boosts your productivity like a miracle. TEAM – for us, that’s: Together, Everybody Achieves More!

Targets and transparency: We’ve set ourselves ambitious targets. Those are broken down to clear goals for everybody in the team, so they know what is important to work on (and what not). It’s important to share the overall progress we make, and be transparent about our decisions we make in the course towards those targets. If everybody is clear about where we are and where we want to be in the future, motivation and happiness levels rise and we all achieve more with less effort.

CG: What do you expect from ESA BIC Bavaria and how did the initiative and its network help you to kick-start your business case?
We are already in the second year of our incubation at ESA BIC Bavaria, and so far, the collaboration really has paid off! It started with the possibility to move our offices to the Ludwig-Bölkow-Innovation Campus in Taufkirchen, the most recent ESA BIC location. We participated in a lot of coaching sessions, and currently, we are looking forward to exhibit our production solution together with ESA at the Paris Air Show in June. Overall, it’s the coaching, a great network of likeminded startups and the publicity that we value most in our relationship with ESA BIC.

CG: How does Airbus Defense & Space supports you?
TG: Our technological basis, Fiber Patch Placement, was initially invented by Airbus. We’ve been able to close a technology and licensing partnership with Airbus early on, and thanks to the close neighbourhood on the Ludwig-Bölkow-Campus, we constantly exchange ideas with the composites team of Airbus Innovation Works. In the long-run, we see Airbus and its subsidiaries as important customers for our production technology because the aerospace industry in particular profits from lightweight carbon fiber products.

CG: Let’s reach for the stars: What is going to happen in Cevotec’s future?
TG: We’ve a big vision: We want to establish the patch technology as a new global standard for processing complex fiber products, for all kinds of composites materials. Carbon fiber is just the beginning, and we are already developing solutions for processing glass fibers. The concept of patch-based production can expand further into functional textiles for e.g. the sports industry, where Adidas already made the first steps to fully-automated production with their Speedfactory project. We expect more like this to come in the future, and we see patch technology as a relevant component for the efficient production of any technical fibers.

CG: Many thanks for your time and the promising forecast. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Did you enjoy this interview with the outstanding startup? Interested people can get into contact with Cevotec via mail. Stay tuned for upcoming interviews with ESA BIC Bavaria startups on our AZO Blog.

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