“The value of our technology is its flexibility”

Francesco De Stefano, CEO and co-founder of Caracol, explained to JEC Composites Magazine how a startup founded a few years ago by four young graduates is now bringing its solution to the North American market. With a distribution network in the region, the company is offering local service for large-scale parts.

“The value of our technology is its flexibility”

4 minutes, 60 secondes

JEC Composites Magazine: From a pioneering start, you quickly reached a very high level. Can you tell us how it went?
Francesco De Stefano, CEO and co-founder of Caracol: Caracol was born from a concept developed by four friends. Giovanni Avallone and Paolo Cassis were interested in design and additive manufacturing, while Jacopo Gervasini and I studied economics and management. We saw a gap in industrial supply chains, and we started putting together a solution to overcome the existing limits in advanced manufacturing processes. The aim was to provide a different approach to production that could lead to efficiency and sustainability benefits. We combined the advantages additive manufacturing (AM) could provide with robotics – in terms of scale and shape flexibility – and material improvements – focusing on pellets that were cheaper and more available. We had a clear value proposition for clients and started getting some traction early on, which was proof of the validity of our work and opened us to the possibilities of fundraising. We raised funds from angel investors at first, and then we welcomed venture capital funds to our team with seed money and Series A funding. I believe the true lever of our growth is a combination of factors: a diverse team, financial resources, innovative technology, a clear go-to market, and a strong value proposition. This is what has contributed to Caracol’s success so far.

Heron AM is a modular, integrated turnkey additive manufacturing solution for large, complex advanced production challenges. It prints several metre-large parts with extruder heads, supported by robotic 6-axis arms, a dedicated software platform for slicing and control, with direct and continuous feeding of advanced composites and polymers from pellets.

JEC Composites Magazine: Which is the application sector that attracts investors the most and why?
Francesco De Stefano: Investors are always on the lookout for sectors that are large, scalable, growing rapidly, and drive high technological development and transformation. This is why we have seen a strong interest for the aerospace sector in the last few years. Still, with a technology like ours, a lot of the value is in its flexibility, which allows us to work on an extremely wide range of applications across sectors. Currently, the most potential and scalability we are seeing for metal large-format additive manufacturing (LFAM) come from tooling for aerospace and automotive parts, marine finished parts such as superstructures, as well as creative industries such as design, architecture, and construction.

DOrbit WAAM Tank, Caracol’s WAAM platform as it prints an aluminium pressure tank for D-Orbit’s cubesat carrier.

JEC Composites Magazine: In your opinion, what will be the greates industrial development for 3D technology in the future?
Francesco De Stefano: While, at the beginning, everything was about hardware and advanced, efficient machines, what we are seeing today is a move towards process control. The ability to manage all steps end-to-end, fully integrating hardware, software, and automation to enhance process control, transforms machines into smart processes that can deliver what manufacturing companies are looking for. You can reduce downtimes and failure on prints, introduce predictive maintenance, and thus move towards reliably producing large-scale structural parts.

Air grids are an interesting application for additive manufacturing. They have complex designs, with non-flat geometrical shapes, and the engineering process in traditional manufacturing still entails hand-made lamination using moulds and fibreglass or metal sheet working such as laser cutting, bending and machining. These needs can be satisfied by working with a technology such as Heron AM.

JEC Composites Magazine: What is your commitment to sustainability?
Francesco De Stefano: Caracol was created with sustainability at its core, as our vision is to help manufacturing companies go towards a new paradigm of efficiency and sustainability. This pillar guides all the business choices we take, from product developments to the projects we work on with clients. Our technology uses pellets and shreds, introducing the possibility of working with recycled materials; it builds finished or near-net shape parts, limiting the need for supports or post-processing operations, and due to its digital nature, it can be placed anywhere in the world and produce parts on-demand with minimal environmental impact from logistics.

Detail of a 3D-printed trim and drill tool manufactured with Caracol’s Heron AM system. 
All the tools were printed with Heron AM in a one-step cycle avoiding assembly and were post-processed by CNC to ensure the expected tolerances and specific surface characteristics. Starting from the concept of adding layers instead of removing and modelling volumes out of a piece of metal or composite enabled the aerospace producers to drastically reduce waste and to obtain a more sustainable production compared to traditional manufacturing.

JEC Composites Magazine: Are you doing any active research in new materials?
Francesco De Stefano: Materials are key to unlocking applications across sectors, therefore we are constantly discovering and working with new materials. At Caracol, we have set up a Materials R&D lab that has a structured procedure to scout, develop, and work side by side with material providers to optimise and characterise new materials that are functional for our process.

For instance, we are working a lot right now on materials with specific properties for a wide range of applications in sectors such as railways, energy, and aerospace – such as flame-retardant or electrically-conductive materials.

JEC Composites Magazine: Which sector do you consider the strongest?
Francesco De Stefano: It depends, but our core sectors, where we are seeing great results in applications, are aerospace, automotive, and marine, as well as creative industries – design, architecture, and construction. In the aerospace sector, we have had the opportunity to collaborate with major international groups and companies that have allowed us to develop certain technological features and applications. For example, thanks to the recent collaboration with D-Orbit for the TechFast, Regione Lombardia tender, we developed a wire arc additive manufacturing process for aluminium pressure tanks for space vehicles. Focusing on end-users and applications is essential for our technological development as they can help us pinpoint the functional characteristics and requirements components need to meet, as well as what challenges we can help them solve, as ultimately our aim is to deliver a turnkey solution to effectively answer our customers’ manufacturing needs regarding advanced large-scale parts.

Beluga, the tiny dinghy presented for the first time by Caracol at the Milan Fuori Salone during the Design Week 2021.
Caracol used its proprietary robotic additive manufacturing system to produce the sailing boat’s hull in a single piece. This large-scale additive manufacturing system works with an extruder patented by the company and a 6-axis robotic arm, generating significant advantages in terms of cost, sustainability, production lead times, and part performance.
More information www.caracol-am.com