Microwaving metal: Peter Beck-backed startup Foundry Lab raises $12m

Foundry Lab, a Wellington startup that says it makes “metal casting as easy as a microwave dinner” has raised US$8 million ($12m) in a Series A round lead by Blackbird Ventures, and supported by Sir Stephen Tindall, among others.

Chief executive and founder David Moodie tells the Herald his firm has developed a microwave casting technology that makes same-day turnaround of metal castings possible. These production-identical parts have applications in mass manufacturing industries where metal 3D printing cannot reach.

Early backers like Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck – whose company is more involved in high-tech fabrication than any other in NZ – and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund reckon he’s on to something.

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The startup is still in a pre-commercial phase, and Moodie won’t name any of the potential customers. But he does say that several automotive giants are showing interest.

The founder does not want to divulge too much detail on his company’s industrial technology secrets, but does offer that its process uses “literally a microwave, but on steroids” to cast metal parts much quicker than metal 3D printing.

“It’s super easy for the user; they literally take the mold, throw in the cold metal powder or metal ingots, put it in the microwave, press the button and walk away, Moodie said “It even dings when it’s done. As easy as heating up a microwave dinner.”

To push home his point, the founder has even used his company’s microwave to cook a meat pie. Moodie says it only took seconds and tasted “fantastic”. And, yes, he confirms he did blow on it first.

Foundry Lab’s digital metal casting process means a complex part like a brake shoe can go from CAD (computer-aided design) file to a cast aluminium part in less than eight hours compared to one to six weeks for 3D metal printing or traditional die-casting.

Beck told the Herald, “Foundry Lab is not another 3D printing company, it is fundamentally changing the metal casting landscape. This is a great example of a New Zealand deep tech company that can succeed on a global stage, and I’m excited to back their continued progress.”

Foundry Lab has also won investment from two marquee American investors: Carl Bass, a former CEO of computer-aided design giant Autodesk, and Karl Iagenemma, the current chief executive of Motional – an autonomous vehicle startup backed by Hyundai and auto-parts maker Aptiv.

“Foundry Lab’s system will unlock new manufacturing opportunities, making additive manufacturing and generative design for production parts a reality. I’m pleased to join the Foundry Lab journey as an investor,” Bass said.

Moodie added, “3D printing is great for look-alike parts, but the world runs on real parts, and metal printing can never produce a real casting”.

The former industrial designer first began working on the idea of prototyping production-identical metal castings in 2018. “I soon discovered that a foundry just doesn’t fit in an R&D lab, so instead the approach became how can an R&D team make metal castings in-house without becoming a foundry?,” he said.

Re-casting the world from Lower Hutt

Foundry currently has 17 staff, all based at its plant in Petone. “Hardware is hard to do remotely,” Moodie quips.

The founder says he plans to double numbers over the next year. The expansion will include some sales and marketing staff offshore, but all engineering and R&D work will remain in the capital. His ideal is to hire locally, but he says given his company’s specialist niche, some roles have to be imported “so closed borders are certainly not making that easy”.

The three-year-old company, which considered itself in “stealth mode” before today’s announcement, had a seed round in March 2020. At the same time, Foundry Lab was re-incorporated in the UISafter the seed round- although Moodie said he’s committed to “100 per cent” of research and development remaining in NZ.

The $12m Series A round was led by Blackbird Ventures, with support from Icehouse Ventures, GD1 and Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1. Existing investors also chipped in more funds, including WNT Ventures.

“Foundry Lab has the chance to impact industries and redefine how products are developed – it’s an ambitious mission and one that we’re excited to support,” said Blackbird Ventures partner Samantha Wong, who heads the firm’s NZ office. “We loved the first principles approach that David and the team have taken, and we’re excited to help them scale globally.”

Moodie said his startup has no direct competitors.

VC boom just keeps getting boomier

Last year saw records broken for venture capital investment in New Zealand.

This year, it’s been running even hotter.

“Right now today, the tech sector in New Zealand is raging,” Beck said, in a reference to a record amount of capital raising during the pandemic.

“I have a lot to do with the venture capital, it’s the best I’ve ever seen it, and funding a lot of startups. And I have to say that the quality and quantity of startups in New Zealand right now is the best I’ve ever seen it.”

And more VC action is on the way. Movac is now investing funds from its $250m Fund 5, while another local contender GD1, recently announced the $130m close of its Fund 3 – blowing away its $130m target.

Meanwhile, Blackbird is targeting a record-smashing $1 billion for a new fund that will launch in the new year. The Sydney-based VC firm is now much playing on both sides of the Tasman, with its Auckland office and financial partnership with the Crown-backed NZ Growth Capital Partners.

High net worth individuals are also part of the picture. As well as backing Foundry Lab, Beck has offered money and mentorship to local startups Heart Lab, Halter, Partly and Astrix Astronautics, as well as backing a “deep technology” fund run by Outset Ventures.

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