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Based in the Netherlands, InPhocal was named one of the 46 must-see startups by the Epoch Foundation’s Garage + program at the Computex Taipei 2021 Virtual Exhibition, developing laser technology and demonstrating it during the event.
Digitimes recently spoke with InPhocal CTO and co-founder Martijn Boerkamp. He described the company’s technology, applications, and laser’s business model as a service.
Q: InPhocal’s solution is very innovative. Your video showed amazing speed in laser printing on various objects. What made you start this project? When was inPhocal founded?
A: It started a few years ago. I participated in an accelerator venture building program. They are incorporating technology from large institutions such as CERN and the European Space Agency. One of the technologies was laser beam technology. I have a background in optical physics. I am a physicist working on the development of new technologies based on optical applications. One of the things I immediately thought was that if you had something like optics, you needed to focus. The same is true with magnifying glass. Focus is important, but it’s also very restrictive. When this technology was announced by CERN, I immediately thought it could create a long focus if I could get rid of the need to focus. This gives you many opportunities to work with many applications.
Then, in the program, we started thinking about the markets we could reach. There were some things that came to my mind. One is laser machining and laser marking. Normally, you need to mark a flat surface. If not, you need to adjust the focus. But with our products you don’t have to do that. We saw the mouse markings in the video. This is also the reason why Logitech contacts us. This is because you don’t have to focus on the solution.
Second, it’s much faster to reach. This is due to this long focus. When I calculated the speed, I found that it was actually as fast as a regular inkjet printer. Inkjet is usually faster because it can process multiple droplets at once. There is only one laser beam for a laser. Now that the speed is increasing, you can actually reach the speed of inkjets up to 10 times faster. In short, inkjet can be replaced by laser technology. Lasers are much cleaner than inkjets, so it encouraged us to create clean solutions. This brings many benefits.
Q: Tell us about your background and core team.
A: I studied physics and got a PhD from Australia. I work for various companies in the Netherlands. I first worked on a startup at a company called Inkless, which was acquired in 2019, then moved to HighTechXL, an accelerator for developing Dutch-based deep-tech startups, and launched inPhocal in 2019. My team has a lot of features. Includes financial, business and technical expertise. Our CEO is also a physicist, but he has been working in a commercial role for some time. Our CFO has many years of experience in start-up finance.
Q: How is your fundraising situation?
A: We have received several grants and grants and have a convertible bond agreement with one of our partners so we can do research and development. Currently, there are prototypes that can be implemented on the production line for pilot testing. We are looking for the next step for investment. We are in the due diligence stage with several investing parties.
Q: On the presentation deck, the speed comparison is very impressive. What is the unit of speed (meters per second) on the production line?
A: Comparing regular inkjets and lasers, both can have high-speed production lines. Lasers can still produce meters per second, but the problem is that people aren’t trying to speed up their production lines. The difference in choice is that inkjets can often produce more prints at the same time than lasers. If you need a lot of prints, use inkjet. But if you need a small print, such as an expiration date, you can very often go to the laser. But that doesn’t apply to Coca-Cola. What they told us was that they switched to lasers at some point, but they didn’t have to slow down the production line. But that’s the content they couldn’t print. For example, I had an expiration date before I got the QR code, but I lost flexibility because I used a laser. For now, our technology can apply the same content as inkjet, but it’s cleaner.
Q: Q: How can a Taiwanese company become an InPhocal partner?
A: That’s also one of our reasons to come here in Taiwan to meet Logitech.
I have a technology that I would like to implement on the production line. If you need a partner in the area of faster marking, you’ll want to find a company with coding or marking capabilities for labeling. This is something companies can already approach us. Also, if your company is considering marking irregular shapes that are difficult with other technologies, our solution has a longer focus so you can do that. In reality, there are two parallel paths. One is for speed marking and for curved surfaces, and moreover, our technology can focus on smaller spots than current technology. For this reason, we are considering applying it to wafer dicing. The smaller the spot, the higher the accuracy. This means less chip damage during the cutting process and higher yields. This is time consuming to develop, but it could be one of the solutions to the global chip shortage problem.
We are looking for end users who are interested and discussing with potential investors and partners to develop this technology. It’s also helpful to talk to your end users and find out that laser technology is needed in this market. Taiwan has a very strong semiconductor industry and talking to them is one of the benefits of being here. A company that manufactures wafer dicing equipment, also in the Netherlands, has confirmed that this technology can reduce spots and increase accuracy, resulting in higher yields.
Q: Is ASML already one of the clients?
A: In fact, they are one of these partners. However, ASML does not manufacture wafer dicing equipment. We are a company that started with Eindhoven’s HighTech XL Venture Building Program, and ASML is one of its venture building partner partners. Therefore, we also received direct support from ASML.
Q: Can you name some of the customers you already have? Then explain your business model.
A: Pilot tests will soon be conducted in Brazil and the Netherlands. Then we’ll do some Logitech testing and discuss our collaboration plans. We also meet a group of investors from the Garage + program.
One of our business models is licensing or leasing our technology. Inkjet users pay a monthly fee for ink. But it’s a big investment for them to switch to lasers. We give them a monthly fee option or try to lease our system for several years. This business model is called laser-as-a-service (LaaS).
Q: Do you have any plans for expansion or funding this year?
A: Yes, this year we would like to expand laser as a service and raise funds to form a team of eight people focused on wafer dicing. Currently, there are 15 people, including some student and advisor groups. But we’ve been running at the expense of subsidies, loans, and pocket money. We want to raise US $ 2.5 million for the seed round this year.
InPhocal laser technology
https://www.digitimes.com/news/a20210629VL200.html Q & A with InPhocal CTO and co-founder Martijn Boerkamp