Microprinting the Future – How XTPL is Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing | CEO Interview

Microprinting the Future – How XTPL is Revolutionizing Electronics Manufacturing | CEO Interview

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Today we’re happy to welcome a visitor in the 10xDNA office. Richard is also joining us, thank you very much. A european founder of a relatively small company, which is incredibly intresting, has visited us and we used that opportunity to record an interview with him. He’s speaking English, comes from Poland, which is why we switch to English now.

Enjoy the talk! So, today we have true deep tech out of Europe in a very, very interesting field, a very from the market capitalization small company with roughly, as we record this 40 million. So please introduce yourself, who are you and what are you doing? Hello, Frank. Hello Richard. I'm Filip, Filip Granek, the founder and the CEO of the company XTPL from Wrocław in Poland. We're working on deep technology for additive manufacturing of electronics.

We focus on high precision printing that can be useful for manufacturing modern components of electronics. Personally, I am a scientist by training, so I started as a researcher working on technology of manufacturing of solar cells and working first in Poland then in the Netherlands, in Germany, also in Australia and a little bit in China. And since 10 years, I'm back in Poland and growing XTPL as my loved baby. Yeah, before we dive into XTPL, let's talk a little bit about Poland and the startup and tech scene. What's your impression? Is it also growing? Is it still tough? What's your impression about this scene? I think it's a really interesting moment in Poland generally.

I was born in 1980 when there was a big change in Poland and this part of Europe was really developing fast. And now we're in the point where we are part of European Union, part of NATO. We have very good transfer of our talents, getting good training abroad and then getting them going back. So I think we have a very good supply of talented engineers, talented entrepreneurs and a growing understanding of the investors that actually technology can be something of value and something of really growth stories for the future.

So Poland is really interesting, I think. So basically, you're building a printer, but a very special one. So let's explain this a little bit more in detail. Yes, sure. So we all know printers. We have them in our offices, in our homes when we print documents.

And it's nice for printing colors. Now, how about using the same easiness and the same efficiency of printing for electronics? And to make this work, you actually have to print much, much smaller structures. And we are printing structures that are just at one micrometer scale. You can compare it to the width of the human hair. We're printing structures that are 100 times smaller than the width of the human hair. And we're printing not just the colors, but actually we're printing materials that are relevant for modern electronics, metals, semiconductors, quantum dots.

So if you have this ability to print with such a high precision, the materials that are relevant for electronics, then you have a really nice functionality that can help building the next generation of products. And can you tell us about the materials a little more? And so what types of materials can you print and what is maybe like on your roadmap to develop in the future? Yeah, with materials, actually, we have the offering of our own materials. And today we are supplying silver based inks for very high resolution printing for electrical conductivity. We're now incubating and we'll be ready to introduce to the market inks based on gold and copper, which are relevant to other markets.

Copper very relevant for printed circuit boards and semiconductors. Gold is very interesting for life science and medical technology applications. So these are our in-house products.

So these are the metals, conductive metals to print on circuit boards, for instance. Exactly. So the conductive materials.

But we also work with our partners who develop their own inks that we do not control, but we look at our system as an open platform. So if you are an innovator and you work on semiconducting materials or insulating materials that are not metals, we are also happy to work with you and test if your inks would work in our printers. OK. And now in order to get feature sizes of roundabout a micrometer, I think this is pretty challenging, right? Otherwise, many people could do it.

But as far as I know, I think you are one of the few companies that can print such precise or fine structures. So can you tell us a little bit about the technology behind this printing technique that you developed? Yeah, we look at this technology as a kind of a triangle of three pillars. One is, first, we have to have a special nozzle, micro produced, microfabricated nozzle that has a very small opening. And through this nozzle, we are pushing our inks. And the smaller the nozzle opening, the smaller the features we can print. Unfortunately, the smaller the nozzle, the easier it is to kill the nozzle, to clog the nozzle, to stop the flow of the ink.

So the inks also have to be developed with very special formulations and a very special attention. So the nozzle, the ink, and at the end, it's the whole process of combining nozzle, ink and a certain software control of the process, certain pressure gradients, the speed of moving the nozzle, the position of the nozzle over your product. So combining all of that gives you the value of really printing fine structures that are electronically relevant. Okay. And as you mentioned, the ink is a key component of your technology. And based on the research that we did, I think the viscosity is a key aspect there.

So could you tell us about why people want to have as high viscosity as possible and why this can be challenging when you have very, very small nozzles? Right. So maybe let's just start with with shortly explaining what viscosity is, right? Yes. Water has a very small viscosity. It's easily flowing.

Honey or toothpaste have a very high viscosity. And if you want to print structures not anymore on a flat surface, but on a complicated three dimensional surface, you want the ink to really stay exactly where you print it. As long as you're printing on a flat surface, all is good. But if you're printing on vertical walls, the ink can flow down if you're using a low viscosity ink. So if you're using a paste-like ink, so an ink with very high viscosity, you can actually create very fine patterns on a very challenging three dimensional, we call it topography. And electronics becomes more and more three dimensional in a microscale, but also in a macro scale. So this high viscosity

is actually very much demanded. The challenge of printing high viscosity inks is that it's such a paste. It's more a paste rather than an ink.

It's really difficult to push it through small nozzles. And again, without clogging or stopping or essentially killing the nozzle. So the perfection of such ink manufacturing is of high essence. It took us a while to get there.

Yeah. And I think you apply like a very interesting trick from a physics perspective, right? So it has to do with non-Newtonian fluids. So can you explain to our viewers or listeners what this non-Newtonian fluid aspect means? Yeah. So we're taking advantage of this non-Newtonian behavior of our inks that when you apply some pressure, the viscosity of the ink changes. So during the printing process, the viscosity actually drops down so we can push it out easily.

But then it solidifies again after it's being printed. So during the printing, we can have this modified viscosity and you will see it with blood has such a behavior and even toothpaste will have a such a behavior. So basically to summarize in simple terms, when you have the ink produced, it is very viscous. But then when you push it through the nozzle, it gets very liquid. So it has a very low viscosity there.

And then as soon as it leaves the nozzle, it immediately gets viscous again. Is that what you're saying? That's exactly what is happening. And then during this small moment of printing, this short time frame, the viscosity is lower.

It helps us. But then after the printing, after the printing is finished, the viscosity is high again. So we don't have this unwanted flow of the ink on the surface that we're targeting. But just getting the ink out of the nozzle is just part of the printing process, right? Because then you have like a more or less liquid ink on your PCB or whatever. Right. How do you make this solid then? Such that it stays.

So first, let's say we're working with metallic inks. So we we are transferring metals into tiny particles. We call them nanoparticles so that they all can fit through small nozzles.

But after it's printed, we have to heat up the product so we can evaporate all the solvents and then maybe use a laser or just an increased temperature to make individual nanoparticles melt together so they can form a solid electrical conductor and they can conduct electricity with a very good quality. Okay, so basically you need an additional step after the actual printing or deposition process to make this printed line into a solid metal component, basically. Exactly right. And we're calling it a post treatment.

So it's printing and then post treatment, sintering, heating up or using sometimes very high intensity flashlight, a flashlight we can use in our cameras, but with much higher intensity and such a flash has enough energy to get the individual particles melt together and solidify and get these final properties that we're looking for. Okay, so how does this work in reality and in real life? So you have a CAD file, for example, and you sort of designed something and then in the end you want to have the final product. Take us through that process. Right. So first, as an

engineer, you will need your design. You want to know what is type of geometry that you want to print. You can have it in the CAD file or another format. Now, that's the one thing. The second thing is you need to know which material you want to print.

So you have to load the material into the cartridge and then start the machine and tune the process. What type of pressures do you want to use? What type of printing speed you want to use? So initially you will have some pre development. And then after that, just press the start button and then make the printer print your design. The nice thing about digital printing is that if you want to change the design half an hour later because you discover that something needs to be changed, you can do it immediately.

You don't have to wait another few weeks for a new mask to come back to your factory or to your R&D lab. So this is the nice thing of the digital technologies where you are very fast in prototyping, in iterations, so it speeds up your development cycles. Makes sense. So now this is a technology that XTPL has developed in-house or that you have developed.

Can you tell us where did you get the inspiration from? So when did this idea come to your mind that you use these non-Newtonian fluids to actually print such fine and yet viscous inks? Yeah, so initially I was working on the technologies that can be relevant for manufacturing of solar cells. And I was using a lot of printing technologies because they are cost effective. They can be applied at scale and in photovoltaics 10 years or 15 years ago when I was involved with that, the pressure was on driving the cost down and increasing the efficiency of the solar cells. So this is where I was getting more and more excited about the offer and the promise of bringing printing into electronics. And I was inspired by some of our work in our labs, but also some external labs where combining this non-Newtonian liquids, micro-machining of very small nozzles can actually be a breakthrough in terms of resolution.

Our initial hope was that it can help solar cells. But unfortunately, solar cells are produced with such small margins. And these are areas that are maybe not the most welcoming for very disruptive technologies. So we were pivoting, we were finding our market fits and we discovered other markets that I think are much more well suited to our offering. But it was a team effort and quite some years of development and struggling, to be honest. Okay, so you basically moved away from solar cells.

So can you tell us what are the target markets that you are currently focusing on? Yeah, so based on our market discovery process, which was initially a process of meeting a lot of companies, meeting a lot of innovators and trying to explain them what we have and how this can help them or not. So this was a lot of kind of learning and sometimes a lot of critical feedback, to be honest, to be accepted. And we discovered that there are three verticals that are of high importance and are of high interest in our offering.

One is manufacturing of novel displays, flat panel displays. Second is manufacturing of printed circuit board. And the third is manufacturing of semiconducting elements, especially advanced packaging. So the back end processing of semiconductors. So basically you don't want to print the actual transistors, but you want to print, for instance, the connections between components within a chip package, for instance.

Exactly. Enable electrical connections to chips and enable three dimensional packaging of the chips at a very high resolution of interconnections. So not going down to individual transistors, that's a way too high resolution needed for us.

Because the transistors are on a, let's say, nanometer scale, whereas your features are on a micrometer scale. So the factor of thousands. Thousands, yeah. So that will take a few

more years, at least for us to get there, if any. But let's talk about the displays. We all know displays, We have a lot of them. So how do you help the producing of displays? For the flat panel displays, we actually discovered that there is a niche where there is a need to repair the displays on the production lines. If, let's say, you have a high resolution display and one or two or 10 pixels out of one million are not working well.

Instead of throwing out such a display, our high resolution technology can go into the production line, help repair this individual pixel and kind of save the life of this display that would end in trash and would end in losing a lot of efficiency, a lot of material. And that's actually a very nice niche for a company like ours that is bringing a new technology from the lab towards the mass technology use case. But when you look at the state of the art production of these displays, is this really relevant? How many, what are the numbers of these defects and and how complicated is it to get your printer into the production to say, OK, I save whatever percentage, which you will tell us now. And is it really feasible? Right. So the older the display

technology, the more perfect it is. And let's say the liquid crystal displays that we have in our offices, the big displays, they have close to 100% production yield. So not so many faulty elements, but the more aggressive you become in terms of making individual pixels smaller and smaller, especially if the display is getting closer to your eye, where you need to fit one million pixels suddenly on a much smaller size.

Then there are issues with manufacturing and then not one in 100 can have an issue, but maybe every second may have an issue every second. Every second product may have an issue, especially if you're just at the beginning of the adoption curve of these new displays. There is a lot of yield issues. So a repair technology that can work at such a high resolution is actually highly demanded. This is what we discovered with our collaboration partners in Korea, in US and in China. Okay.

Okay, and how is the repair done these days or today? Do they do any repair or only sometimes? Can you tell us about how this works and how XTPL can change that? So there are technologies for repair. It's actually quite an existing business with value chains developed and with players who are established in this industry. And today they are using some of the laser deposition processes that can enable them depositing structures at, say, five micrometer, maybe three micrometer. But as long as you're getting to two micrometers, one micron and even below, there are no good solutions out there. And this is a nice window of opportunity for new players to come into the market and to try to win this growing market that is just getting established. So this is how we, still relatively young and maybe not very well known company in this flat panel display industry, we are targeting this high end use cases that cannot be solved with existing technology.

We believe that just becoming a little bit cheaper, a little bit better, is not enough to introduce a new technology with all of these risks to the market. So we are targeting these enabling use cases when there is no solutions out there and we can be really the enabler, the disruptor in this respect. Okay, so basically display repairs is like the first big industry that you're targeting. What about the other two that you mentioned? Can you tell us about the importance of these and when this will become relevant for you? So we definitely, first of all, we look at the big journey that the new technology that was designed in the lab needs to take to come from the laboratory use case to acceptance in the mass production.

And mass production is pushing millions and millions of products. So it cannot accept any imperfections in new technology. So we have to go through a very complicated market acceptance cycle, technology evaluation cycle with our partners to make sure that once they adopt our technology, it will work.

So repair is a really nice beachhead market for flat panel displays. In terms of printed circuit boards, there is also a class of printed circuit board called high density integration HDI printed circuit board, where repair is also important because this HDI printed circuit boards have a high value and it makes sense to repair them if they are not perfect. And again, this is where our first step into that industry can be. So again, repairs. Repairs is a nice entry back door to the big industry that we want to use and to establish ourselves as players.

With semiconductors, it's more about interconnections, heterogeneous packaging, three dimensional packaging. So making not individual chips work, but two individual chips being packaged as close to each other so you can have more and more computational power on a smaller scale, on a smaller volume with probably less energy loss and more efficient operations. So big opportunities, big markets, but there must also be competitors. Definitely. So first of all, I believe that if there is no competition, probably there is a risk that there is no market as well. So competition is welcome.

Competition is good. And we see competition from the point of the current standard technologies which are improving, becoming better. And these are not the additive technologies, but these are subtractive technologies using masks to remove most of the materials, to just leave some tiny structures on the product. So let's say this is one group of competition and the other is the additive technologies like our technology.

And we do see a younger organization, I mean, a young organization, not younger than us, but the young organization that are looking also in this revolution in manufacturing of electronics where additive technologies at the high resolution scale will start to play a bigger and bigger role. So there are some players, one in US, one in Switzerland, one in Korea that we pay close attention to what they are doing, how they are doing it. Each of us is taking a little bit different technological approach with this and each technological approach has their respective advantages and disadvantages. So our focus is on utilizing most of our advantages and not trying to pick the battles where our disadvantage would be a limiting factor. At the end, I think there will be a scene where there will be more than one player enabling high resolution printing of electronics.

But these different technologies will be used for different use cases. So we will have, you know, maybe a peaceful coexistence on the market. I like that attitude.

Thank you. And when you compare the disadvantages and strengths of your technology compared to a couple of your competitors, can you give us an idea why a customer would eventually choose your technology over some competitor? So number one, when our USP, number one is getting to extremely small feature sizes down to one micron. And I think in the near future, even going significantly below one micrometer. Is there still potential to go much further down? Definitely so. I mean, we are still a

young company and we are now getting our first products to the market, but we are continuing our ambitious R&D development agenda. And we know that we will be much smaller than one micrometer in the foreseeable future. So the big USP number one is the resolution. If you don't need such a resolution, probably our technology won't be a perfect fit. And you are the only one that can deliver one micron feature size? No, there are others, but we are the only one who can deliver one micron and high viscosity. So that's the second USP.

The combination, especially the combination of, as I mentioned in the beginning, the high viscosity gives you a huge advantage if you're not working on a flat product, but if your product has some topography, some three dimensional shape on a small scale or on a bigger scale, and that's where technology like ours can be a winner. But there will be use cases, to be fair, where we probably won't be the winner and we just have to be smart about selecting the battles. Okay, interesting. So it's about the combination of small feature size and high viscosity, which is your sweet spot. Exactly right.

Yes. In general, I'm not a big fan of patents, but to protect your IP can also be a good strategy. So do you have patents on this? Was this patentable? And what's your view on this? Yeah, so we want to build a sustainable value around XTPL and we want to have unfair advantage in terms of our technology. Patent protection is one of the pillars of our unfair advantage that we try to develop. And we applied for over 20 individual patents that are global patents and we already have seven of them granted.

Usually takes a while from application to granted patents. So this is an ongoing process of, let's say, the strong IP protection. But at the end of the day, the biggest protection is the continuous innovation. So if we run with R&D, if we can bring new value to the customers, if we can bring next generation product and new features and new components, I think this will help us most to win and to be a sustainable partner for our users.

Are you worried about IP protection in some areas of the world? I mean, you're also selling to China and historically there have been some issues there. So what is your strategy there? Yeah, so we like to have our technology available in all regions where manufacturing of electronics is important. Asia, especially China, is very heavy on manufacturing of electronics.

Whether we like it or not, that's the reality and we want to be present on this market. Also, we want to be smart about how to enter this market. So next to our hard IP protection in terms of patents, we also have a very closed system of how we protect our software, how we protect our manufacturing of the inks and our nozzles.

So it's not that trivial just to buy one of our systems, you know, tear it apart and build a second system similar in whatever geography it is. And the combination of material science, microfabrication, process control is actually not a trivial combination under one roof. So it gives a certain additional protection. Okay. And now moving on to the business side of things and the outlook for the future. Can you give us an idea of the current status of XTPL? So what are you currently focusing on? How big are you? How many people? Some idea there will be helpful.

Sure. So we are now an eight year old baby with 50+ team members. Most of us working in Wrocław in Poland and we just started to enter the market with our products.

So six years, we kind of focus for incubating the technology, making it ready for market introduction. The last year we generated first, let's say, visible revenue of three million euro by selling our first products to the market. And now we are at this interesting transition point in our life that we see a very good acceptance of our first product. We have good customer feedback and we have a growing pipeline of growth opportunities for selling more and more of our systems. So now we are transforming from a pure R&D company to a customer driven product oriented company. So these are some of the interesting challenges that are ahead of us.

But we are really happy that we are entering this initial stage of growth after the long period of technology incubation. And what are your revenue expectations? You say you made three million? So can you give us a forecast maybe about the next three, four years? Our goal is to grow from three million Euro in last year to 30 million euro in the year 2026. So 30, 3-0. 3-0. So we want to grow

10x over the next 3.5 years. And we see already from our existing pipelines and relationships with our customers that we have built, we don't need to build them from scratch. We know how to get there. And we believe this is a really important period of our life.

And after that, we will have a confirmation of our products on the larger market and we will grow from there. But the management now and the team is focused on the next 3.5 years strategy period.

So quite interesting coming from a research, prove the technologies, find possible partners, making some revenues, three million. And now say, OK, now is the time where we become a part of the production facilities and really scale. Exactly. So it's a really challenging transformation, but it's the one that we are aiming at. From the beginning, we are thinking, let's take this exciting, for us, exciting technology to industrial reality.

And we understand that this process is challenging and it will require us to learn a lot, to adopt to existing value chains and the ways things are done in the big industry. But we want to play with the big boys. At the end, we want to be one of the big boys. So this is something we want. And when we think about your products or could you tell us a little more about your products? What can we actually buy from your company? So is this like a printer that I could put on my desk or any idea for our viewers would be helpful.

Sure. So our first product was a R&D printer. A printer that you can buy from XTPL that is not used for mass manufacturing, but is used for research and development projects. If you're incubating a next generation product inside of your corporate research or maybe you work for academia on a novel innovative project on your own. And our R&D printer is, I think, a very nice tool. So this is a standalone printer, basically, that you can just put on your desk or your lab bench or whatever? Yeah, it will come with a desk. But essentially it's a standalone system that you will get from us.

And after two days of training, you will be able to print very exciting, fine features. And hopefully they can support your development project and can be an enabling factor in whatever you are working on. So that's the product number one. OK. And but this is probably not what you're going to sell to industry customers, right? So what is the difference there? So this R&D printer, this standalone system is like the first product that we're entering to the R&D markets.

And it's good to get a lot of critical feedback, a lot of useful feedback. And we love to work with these innovators who are seeing how the world would look like in 10 or 20 years from now. But the biggest business opportunity for us, the long term opportunity, is related to getting into the industrial environment. And we want to get there not by bringing the full standalone machines, but taking the heart of the printing system, which is essentially the printing head or the printing module and making it a part of bigger industrial machines. So you want to become a supplier of other equipment manufacturers, basically? Correct. We want to work with existing

capital equipment manufacturers who have a track record and a proven successful track record in delivering their big machines to the biggest names of the electronic industry. And we want to deliver them a component, a critical component that will be sold once. And then each such component will require consumables, so materials that will be needed to be changed every now and then, like nozzles, like inks, like cartridges and some of our support, which will generate a stream of recurring revenue that can help our company grow as well. So scaling, coming into production in the industry, that's kind of your current focus. So you need to achieve that to generate the revenues.

But I want to look a little bit further in the future. So if you dream big, the IP, the technology that you develop, can it maybe even connect the cloud to our brain and then play a role? So what are the crazy things that after the hard work and getting the cash flows from the productions, what's possible with your technology? I'm a big believer that such an additive approach of manufacturing electronics will play a role in multiple industries. Now we focus on displays, semiconductors, printed circuit boards. But if I look to the future, I would see our technology supporting new biosensors, new telecommunication efforts, human brain interface where the small needles will be implemented into parts of our body.

And they will need a certain very fine components printed on three dimensional needles. So we expect that whenever there will be advanced electronics five, 10, 20 years from now, maybe somewhere inside, there will be XTPL used to empower it. And out of every such a component, our company can generate value. And in terms of the customers, can you give us any idea of the companies that could eventually adopt your technology? So are these like the big names that everyone knows about like Samsung or whoever, or are these like the suppliers of these companies? Just some insight there would be great. So we work directly with the end manufacturers, like some of the big brands that we all know from the electronics market.

Samsung, LG, for instance, these are potential customers. These could be example names of companies that are the end user of our technology. So this type of big corporations, they have their scouting, they have their long term road mapping of technologies of next generation nodes and next generation nodes. And they know what are the bottlenecks in terms of existing technologies out there. And they're already looking actively who can be a supplier of a solution that they will be looking for now, maybe one year from now or maybe two years from now.

And we need to be on the roadmaps, we need to be on the radar, so we want to be in the interactions with them. But at the end, the business model that we adopted is a business model where we are actually selling directly to capital equipment manufacturers. So the manufacturers of big production machines that these big end users will install in their production floors. So our direct buyer, our direct customer will be the equipment manufacturer.

But the decision of buying this or that equipment will be usually driven by the end customers preferences and needs. So it's like a triangular relationship. You're exactly right. This triangle is very critical for us to understand both stakeholders, the end user and the equipment manufacturer, understand their needs, their needs for now, for the future, how the existing solutions today will run out of steam in a year from now and how we can be potentially one of the next gen solutions or perhaps not.

So we need to understand the roadmaps of both of the stakeholders and we want to be close to both of them. Okay. And maybe as a last question on customers.

So you made a couple of announcements in terms of US customers, for instance, from Silicon Valley and another one from like a NASDAQ 100 listed company. Can you tell our listeners about this? What did you announce there and why is this exciting for you? Well, we're very excited about any announcement, obviously, and every partnership. This particular ones in US are focused on one is focused on working for a very big multinational corporate with their headquarters in Silicon Valley when they are looking into virtual reality applications. So whenever you have flat panel displays that will become closer and closer to our eyes and this poses some challenges in terms of how these displays are manufactured and how can they be done better.

So our technology is being evaluated there. And another announcement with this NASDAQ 100 corporation who is a very big capital equipment manufacturer, who is delivering big machines to the industries of flat panel display, semiconductors and printed circuit boards where they are looking into our technology and perhaps they will use our technology for their future products. And collaboration with such big corporations is a huge opportunity for us to learn how they operate, to get very close to the experts of the given industries and essentially to leverage their sales, marketing, business development arms that they have developed globally to push or to promote our technology to the markets. So we just recently had this Apple Vision Pro announcement.

So it is possible or maybe even likely that at some point either the Apple Vision Pro or any other type of wearable device could have some components printed with XTPL? Yeah, that would be that would be not totally crazy to assume that especially that such a product would require extremely high resolution of displays resolution in terms of how small individual pixels will be and how much it pushes. The manufacturing technology to its limits and where players like XTPL additive solutions at a very small scale can be a useful solution as well. So we are super excited to have companies like you in Europe working at the cutting edge now coming hopefully into first big cash flows, stable cash flows.

But the future is so much more to bring with all the things you told us. So it's really exciting. We're happy to be a shareholder and thanks that you visit us here today.

Thank you so much. And thanks for inviting me to your offices. Thank you. It was a pleasure meeting you, Filip. Thank you.

2023-07-27 05:42

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