Additive manufacturing has been around for over 30 years but is still in its infancy in terms of adoption, due to high manufacturing costs at the post-processing stage. That’s a problem the Yorkshire based company Holdson is on its way to solving. Supported by Innovate UK’s business growth service, Innovate UK EDGE, Holdson, which makes electrochemical polishing systems for metal components, is improving 3D printing (a type of additive manufacturing) with its innovative Electroform technology.
Post processing is an essential part of the manufacturing process. All metal 3D printing is rough, so it needs to be polished to smooth out any inconsistencies and achieve the desired finish, thereby ensuring components meet specifications around performance and durability. But, standard technology is slow and prohibitively expensive. That’s where the Electroform technology comes in, according to Neil Dickinson, co-founder and chief technology officer at Holdson. “We’ve taken a standard process – electrochemical polishing isn’t new – but the way we’ve applied it and the tool we use enable us to be significantly faster than the competition,” he says. “And it’s cheaper.” Holdson says its patented process is up to six times faster than other automated options.
One of Holdson’s key target audiences is the medical field. Dickinson says 3D printing could massively speed up the manufacture of personalised implants, for example. “The process could be cut from seven weeks to seven days, which would be a huge, huge benefit to patients and hospitals. And it would be much cheaper.”
Holdson is actually a spin-off from another Innovate UK-supported company, Holtex, which also received Innovate UK funding – as a participant in an Advanced Propulsion Centre project worth £20million plus. A precision engineering company, Holtex was founded in 2014 and Dickinson worked with Holtex on decreasing carbon use in diesel engines. Dickinson says it became apparent to him that post-processing solutions could be improved. Holdson was then incubated inside Holtex and launched as a sister company in early 2023.
Innovate UK support to grow and scale
Needing support to raise investment, Holdson took part in Innovate UK’s Invest-ability training in autumn 2022. Invest-ability is in-depth investment readiness coaching and is offered to Innovate UK EDGE clients at the right stage. Holdson was successful in attracting funding subsequently, raising £700,000.
As part of its wider innovation and growth support from Innovate UK EDGE, Holdson has also progressed its business planning, market research, pitch deck, and received an IP Audit.
In addition, Holdson has received two Innovate UK Smart awards – one as partner in a £492,000 project in 2022 while still incubating within Holtex, and another more recently as a participant in a project worth over £950,000. The company has also been given the green light for a funding project from the Advanced Machinery & Productivity Institute (set up and funded by Innovate UK), worth £1.2million over the next two years.
“Innovate UK is brilliant at helping us focus on where we need to be for the next stage, what the challenges are and how to overcome those challenges,” says Dickinson. “They’ve networked for us, put us in touch with people and act as a sounding board. It’s been a really collaborative involvement and they’ve gone above and beyond what I expected.”
This level of support has helped Holdson be very agile. As a result, the company already has a strong pipeline of sales, a fifth patent in the offing and a team of seven. The plan has been to grow to a team of 20 by the end of 2023, a team of 30 by the end of 2024 and over 100 staff and 20 million turnover in five years’ time. It has a clear growth plan with anticipated sale and exit in the next three to five years.
Dickinson says there is a strong need for additive manufacturing to go mainstream. “We will enable more and more manufacturers to embrace 3D printing as a manufacturing solution, allowing people to be much more innovative with engineering designs and reducing the amount of scrap that is produced.”
Having made great strides, Holdson is currently receiving pre-scale support before being put forward to the Innovate UK EDGE Scaleup Programme, which will hopefully provide next level support to raise game changing investment and scale on a global stage.
Innovate UK is brilliant at helping us focus on where we need to be for the next stage, what the challenges are and how to overcome those challenges...It’s been a really collaborative involvement and they’ve gone above and beyond what I expected.”