A small step for Start-up Nation; A giant leap for 3-D printing

The Jerusalem Post spoke with XponentialWorks founder Avi Reichental, one of the most successful hardware entrepreneurs, and a leader in 3D printing industry.

A MAN watches a 3D Printer in action while attending a conference.  (photo credit: TRINITY WHEELER PHOTOGRAPHY)
A MAN watches a 3D Printer in action while attending a conference.
As Israel continues to shine as the Start-Up Nation and a leader in hi-tech, it is also paving the way as a global powerhouse in the development of 3D printing hardware and in that burgeoning industry as a whole.
The Jerusalem Post spoke with XponentialWorks founder Avi Reichental, one of the most successful hardware entrepreneurs, and a leader in 3D printing industry, which today is revolutionizing the worlds of aerospace, transportation and medicine, and that one day might solve major problems such as food shortages.
Israeli-born Reichental is also a general partner at Cognitiv Ventures, the $100M global fund (and one of Israel’s largest), which focuses on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and digital manufacturing start-ups.
XponentialWorks is an advisory, venture-investment and product-development company based in California.
He is also the board director of Israel-based NanoDimension, a leading 3D printing company and one of the few Israeli hardware companies publicly traded on the TASE and NASDAQ (NNDM).
Tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and a bit about your background.
I grew up in Israel in Rishon Lezion in the ‘60’s, and as a teenager worked summers in the Carmel Mizrahi Winery. After I finished my military service in the Air Force, I traveled to the US, where eventually, after doing all kinds of minor jobs from sweeping floors to selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, joined a young packaging company called Sealed Air.
It was the early days of protective packaging in a company that just graduated from what today we would call a start-up into adolescence.
I had a chance to quickly move through the ranks and become one of the top senior executives who built the business from several hundred million in annual revenues up to an annual revenue of $5.5 billion.
Over the next 22 years, I held various senior technology and operating roles with global responsibilities. One day in 2003, during a business trip to London, I got a call from a headhunter, with the opportunity to be the CEO of a company with a promising technology called 3D printing. And so began my great adventure pioneering 3D printing, and the incredible progress we’ve seen as it’s grown into a widely used technology within the manufacturing industry and beyond.
What was it that encouraged you to create XponentialWorks and how did you become interested in the 3D printing industry?
I have always been interested in how things work, and from a very young age I was drawn to new technologies. We live in exponential times, when the convergence of key technologies like AI, robotics and 3D printing are poised to disrupt and redefine manufacturing as we know it.
I became interested in 3D printing at the dawn of the technology’s creation and helped pioneer the technology alongside the creator of 3D printing itself, Chuck Hull, when I served as CEO of 3D Systems, the first company to produce a 3D printer.
I founded XponentialWorks after recognizing needs in the market. The first need was to help traditional manufacturers catch up and incorporate 3D printing, generative design, AI, etc., into their business models to digitize their companies. The second need I recognized was helping start-ups... develop and scale their groundbreaking technology and gain access to the market.
Our goal at XponentialWorks is to seed and scale tomorrow’s generative design and augmented manufacturing category leaders. We see great opportunities to collide our start-ups with our mid-market companies for mutual benefit and greater business optionality.
Tell me a bit about what XponentialWorks is and what it focuses on. Where does it operate from?
XponentialWorks is a venture-investment, corporate-advisory and product-development company specializing in artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, and the digital transformation of traditional manufacturing businesses.
XponentialWorks is based in Ventura, California, and was founded in 2015. We bet on winning teams and strive to cultivate tomorrow’s category leaders.
In Ventura, we have built a unique ecosystem that unites the forces of early-stage companies with the experience and deep-market knowledge of mature companies who are looking for the technologies that the younger companies offer.
We mentor and invest in the growth and success of promising early-stage companies in Israel, the United States, India and Europe.
I have invested early in Israeli companies like Invertex, where I met my two Israeli Cognitiv Venture Fund partners, Eduardo Shoval and Yori Nelken. That meeting resulted in the three of us establishing Cognitiv Ventures and investing in about 16 early-stage Israeli companies, including Taranis, Zebra, Blink, TechSee and many more. Invertex, the company that started it all, was acquired by Nike about one year ago and became the cornerstone of the Nike R&D center in Israel.
My passion for additive manufacturing and 3D printing led me to my role as executive chairman of Nano Dimension (TASE and NASDAQ:NNDM), a young Israeli company that developed the first-of-its- kind 3D printing technology for electronic devices, which require increasingly sophisticated features and which cover a diverse range of industries, including consumer electronics, medical devices, defense, aerospace, automotive, IoT [the Internet of Things] and telecom.
One of XponentialWorks’ partner companies, Techniplas, is a global design and manufacturing provider of automotive products and services, with a century of hard-core traditional manufacturing technologies and factories around the world.
Over the past 24 months, we digitally transformed Techniplas from the edge of the company into the core by partnering with some of XponentialWorks’ leading 3D printing start-ups.
Working with various start-ups, including ParaMatters, Nexa3D and Nano Dimension, has enabled Techniplas to develop new capacities in designing and producing highly customized, lightweight parts. Techniplas produces parts for some of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers, such as Ford, Toyota, Jeep and others, and the digitization of its business has enabled it to stay ahead of its competition.
Tell me about which industries you see 3D printing impacting and how.
3D printing is, and will continue to impact a wide spectrum of industries – from aerospace and automotive manufacturing, to medical devices, housing construction and even our food.
The key marker of 3D printing is that there is no added cost to the intricate complexity. The printer doesn’t care if it makes the most rudimentary shape or the most complex shape, and that is turning design and manufacturing on its head.
For cars, this means vehicles that can be customized for individual tastes, along with cars that are lighter in weight for enhanced energy efficiency and driving performance. With food, we will be able to personalize tastes and flavors for each individual, which means not only delicious food to suit our own palate, but the potential for personalized nutrition.
The possibilities are absolutely mind-boggling, and the exciting thing is that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of 3D printing’s potential.
What are some of the world crises that 3D printing can help alleviate, and what industries does 3D printing impact? Aerospace? Health? Food? Transportation?
Let’s start with Beresheet, as 3D printing is a great vehicle for the design and manufacturing of space-exploration vehicles. In April, I was in Israel with the XPrize Foundation, of which I am a proud board member. XPrize was founded by my good friend Peter Diamandis, the futurist visionary entrepreneur extraordinaire. XPrize is responsible in part for the genesis of Beresheet, since the team came out of our Google Lunar XPrize competition.
Another example is Nano Dimension, which is working in collaboration with the Harris Corporation to generate 3D printing of electronic modules for space applications by manufacturing 3D-printed double-sided, multilayer circuits that drastically reduce the size, weight, power and cost of space systems.
There are a number of additional problems that 3D printing can begin to address. A good example is affordable housing, where 3D printing can produce materials, and even complete houses, at speeds that are exponentially faster and much cheaper. In March 2017, a 3D-printed home was built in just 24 hours.
The house used an on-site printer, which meant that the massive cost and logistical hurdles of transporting parts and building materials from factories to a home site was almost entirely eliminated.
Think about the possibilities: You select the site where you want to build your home, a 4.5-meter-long printer is brought in, the raw materials are set up, and within one day your home is printed and ready for you. Compare that to the traditional six- or seven-month construction time the industry is used to, and you’ll begin to understand the scope of potential disruption.
3D printing could also eventually eliminate the need for human organ transplants. 3D printing works by telling a computer to apply layer upon layer of a specific material, quite often plastic or metal powders, producing them one layer at a time until the final product is built. Medical technology is now harnessing this technology and depositing harvested and multiplied cells onto collagen-like scaffolds. With so many brilliant companies working on organ 3D printing, don’t be surprised if within the next seven to 10 years we will be able to offer organ replacement made from your own cells.
How does 3D printing work when it comes to food, especially now that we could be facing a food shortage on continents like Africa as a result of climate change?
There are many ways in which 3D printing can impact the future of food and its abundance, and more importantly, this isn’t the future of food, this is the here and the now.
3D printing works through a process known as additive manufacturing, in which layer upon layer of materials are placed on top of one another to create an endless variety of shapes and designs.
What I find incredible is that there is literally no limit to what a 3D printer can now make, and this means that 3D printing is not only about design, it’s also about mouth-watering meals, nibbles and refreshments.
Imagine food that can be woven into different and intricate patterns, from your favorite dessert waffle to your everyday cracker. Then think about your favorite drink – perhaps a colorful healthy shake or juice – which when 3D printed, can combine not only the taste but also the exact nutritional ratios perfect just for your body.
Sustainable ingredients such as duckweed, which are better for the environment, can also be utilized in food to make it healthier and more palatable. Add to the mix perfectly made burgers that taste exactly like meat but are actually produced from substitute proteins, for a more sustainable solution to feeding the world’s growing population, and we are already on our way to tackling serious environmental issues. Livestock produce approximately 18% of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet 3D printed meat can provide the same food without the harmful environmental effects, and still allow us maximum enjoyment.
I recently chatted with Aleph Farms, an Israeli start-up that is developing technology to grow meat from cells in lab conditions. This meat involves taking a sample of animal cells from a real cow and replicating them outside of the animal – without the antibiotics, environmental footprint, contamination and animal slaughter that come with conventional meat production.
There are even restaurants that extensively use 3D printers, such as Melisse, a California bistro that uses 3D printers for the 3D printed croutons in its French onion soup. They use the printer to create a detailed crunchy casing, and inside they place a luxurious ball of burrata cheese.
Recently, I was at the Dan Accadia [Herzliya] Hotel where I had the pleasure of sampling delicious ‘Jet-Eat’ kebabs in a pita. I could have been eating a deliciously flavored, mouth-watering kebab. In actual fact, Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, founder and CEO of Jet-Eat, told me that behind the scenes, the process is all about the scale production of steaks using 3D printing technology to replicate the texture and flavor of meat.
Where do you see Israel in the fight to combat world challenges in the next few years?
Some say they come to Israel to experience the past, but they also come to look into the future. Israel, as a Start-Up Nation, is constantly developing and enhancing technology as we know it. There is no question that we live in exponential times where everything is possible and there are no limits, and this means that the rate and pace of technological development is also exponential.
The impact that Israeli technology has made in the fields of cybersecurity, fintech, mobility, healthcare, 3D printing, robotics, and artificial intelligence is enormous, and this influence will continue to grow exponentially into the future.
Israel is already outperforming the world in R&D per capita, and is at the heart of artificial intelligence innovation with over 800 start-ups in that single cutting-edge space. Israel is also the place to be for agtech, which in and of itself is solving the massive global problem of food spoilage and food abundance. In addition, Israel is a serious future space player, with the latest in drone and satellite technology, especially given the recent Beresheet lunar launch.
Israel is leading a new vision for flexible, tool-less, digital manufacturing that is not only good for business, it will make our individual lives easier and it will help with environmental sustainability. This new vision will allow companies of all sizes to compete more effectively, increase their efficiency and produce better products much, much faster.
Tell me about how Israel is leading this industry and how this came to be.
Since the very birth of 3D printing over 30 years ago, Israel has played an important role in its development and evolution. Companies like Scitex contributed much of the early and foundational local talent to the 3D printing industry, along with the formation of Objet, an early company not many remember today. Cubital also started here in Israel shortly after my former company 3D Systems began its commercial operation in California, around 1986.
I would be remiss not to mention the growing importance of Israel to the additive manufacturing universe from leading companies like Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) and metal 3D printing pioneer XJET, led by serial entrepreneur Hanan Gothait, to additive electronics pioneer Nano Dimension (NASDAQ:NNDM), for whom I currently serve as chairman of the board, to Massivit and so many more start-ups that really are disrupting the 3D printing industry globally.   
Where do you see Israel in the next 10-15 years on the global tech scene and in the 3D printing world?
If the past is any predictor of the future, Israel is well-positioned to shape and disrupt 3D printing as we know it. The growing importance of applied artificial intelligence is sure to stir things up and accelerate the adoption of 3D printing in outright production. The convergence of relevant exponential technologies such as sensoring, robotics, edge computing and language will also give Israel a serious edge. And the increased access to venture capital – both from hundreds of strategists who are locally present, and a growing global VC universe that set its sights on the Start-Up Nation – is sure to provide the required catalyst.
I also have to add that after 15 years in 3D printing, I’m still thrilled by everything this industry can do. I see an industry with unlimited potential which will only become more and more relevant to our future needs.
It will reshape the way we live and communicate, the way we design and manufacture. It will, of course, increase value and wealth for the main players, but I see it as being far more about making a change for the better in the world we live in. 3D printing will have a real impact on our day to day lives, and that’s the core aim.
Each of us, at some point in the not-too distant future, will be involved in making the world a better place with 3D printing, and I am waiting impatiently for that day to arrive.