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A New Generation of Small Electric Motors: More Powerful, Smaller, Greener

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FlexCoil (A New Generation of Small Electric Motors: More Powerful, Smaller, Greener)

Reporting period: 2018-06-01 to 2018-09-30

FBDL sprl has the ambition is to become the market leader in high-end small-size electric motors, also known as micromotors. There are many high-end applications that depend on micromotors: prosthetic arms, surgical robots or medical power tools, for example. The performance of these applications are mainly limited by their micromotors, in terms of weight, efficiency, power density, operating temperature, ...

Based on an innovative technology, we are able to offer a significant increase in the performance of the existing motors without increasing production costs.

The idea behind the Mirmex invention is to replace the traditional copper wire winding, the part generating the magnetic force for creating the rotation, by a winding made of flexible printed circuit (PCB). When rolled tubularly, novel winding geometries are enabled, in forms and shapes totally impossible to build with current conventional technology. Such new geometries bring a performance increase of up to 70%, compared to current state of the art.

The electric micromotor market is large and represents an annual turnover of more than a billion euros. It is growing at a rate of 6% per year. We expect to generate revenue of 26M€ after 6 years. A potential production facility has already been identified in Belgium, and 70 FTE [Full Time Equivalent] jobs are anticipated in 2024.
1. Complete Technical Feasibility Study

Several hundred windings prototypes were manufactured during Phase 1. These prototypes were built for a dozen early-adopters, in multiple shapes and lengths. They were built with our current beta manufacturing system before being shipped to users all over the world. In conjunction with a verification of the achievable production cost in low-volume (50Ku/yr), an analysis was performed for determining options and requirements associated with high-volume industrial scale production (1Mu/yr).

Multiple meetings and discussions with suppliers and university researchers who have experience in building motors were held from June to August. These discussions resulted in the creation of the preliminary manufacturing flows for the production of windings and of motors. These flows were tested in a lab manufacturing environment.

To succeed in the long-term requires a careful selection of suppliers. Meetings and discussions with multiple potential suppliers were held. Parts were ordered from a dozen of them for the top 7 most critical parts of our solution. The conclusion from this Phase 1 analysis is that we are now ready to enter into a pilot phase with the selected suppliers. This task will be a key pillar of our Phase 2 proposal. Having identified and selected these suppliers, our focus in a next step will be to further reduce individual quality component risks and agree on contractual terms (payment, committed lead time, currency risk...).

2. - Validate Commercial hypothesis

More than 30 new customers were contacted to help us gain a better understanding of the market. In addition to individual interviews, several market studies were obtained to make sure data from objective sources corroborate our assumptions regarding market size and the growth rate. These studies were instrumental in identifying our next commercial targets, prioritizing them by size and assessing the difficulty (or not) of getting in touch with the right contact. These activities enabled the creation of a robust list of key market players, ranked by priority to be used when we launch the next stage of our business development activities in Phase 2.

In parallel, an analyze of the regulatory requirements to ensure compliance has been carried out. General purpose regulatory requirements (ISO9001, CE, IEEE, electrical equipment, etc.) were reviewed and, as expected, did not present any particular issue, especially given the inert and low-power nature of our products. An analysis of these requirements made us realize that a change of material was required for applications requiring UL-compliance, but did not present any particular issue because a UL-compatible material that is equivalent to the one currently in use already exists.

Finally, an identification of additional IP generated, as well as a strict IP protection plan have been performed. We provide a technology that brings a lot of disruptive added-value. It is therefore fundamental to protect the value we create with strong entry barriers. Intellectual Property will be one of these barriers and phase 1 was the perfect timing to brainstorm about new patentable product ideas in order to add technological benefits to our value proposition and prevent other entities to try to lock our freedom to operate. The brainstorming session included discussion about the market strategy, the R&D roadmap and the production process, in which we identified which assets are truly proprietary and/or can be protected through utility patent, copyright, trade secrets, design patents, method patents, etc.
The user benefits from FlexCoil depend on the type of application. Our discussions with customers helped us to identify the most important need per application. Some of them are listed below :

1. durability: Whilst keeping the size of the motor and the output constant, our technology reduces the temperature increase in the motor. The lower the temperature, the more durable the bearings, the winding and other pieces. The lifetime of the motor is therefore increased.

2. weight: electrical tool manufacturers want to produce tools with lighter motors, as users need to hold them in their hand during the entire work. Reducing the weight of the motor or offering the lightest motor on the market would represent a major competitive strategy . FlexCoil allows a 30% weight reduction of the motor, which represents a significant part of the total weight.

3. autonomy: Applications in bio-robotics such as prostheses need solutions for increasing autonomy while adhering strict weight constraints. Our technology has two positive impacts: it reduces the weight of the motor and increases its efficiency. This in turn (i) makes it possible to use larger batteries, and (ii) reduces the global energy consumption for realizing the same task, which is helpful for the autonomy and battery lifetime.

4. torque: As current motors cannot reach the needed output torque, a gearhead that doubles the torque is required in lots of applications. With FlexCoil, the same motor can achieve almost twice the output torque, which allows operation without a gearhead, reducing total weight (typically -30%) and significantly increasing efficiency. Noise emissions are also drastically reduced, as is the defect rate because the gearhead is the weakest part of the system.

5. dynamics: Productivity is directly proportional to the dynamics of movement. More powerful motors will enable faster movement of the prehensile tools of industrial robots and thus increase the production rate.

6. cost: Compared to the classical wire winding, the FlexCoil winding has a slightly higher material cost (the PCB is more expensive than the wire), but a very low production cost (it is by far easier and faster to roll a PCB than to knit copper wire). Overall, the cost balance is in our favour due to the huge costs associated with traditional winding machines.

The outcome of the Phase 1 is the confirmation that Mirmex has achieved a commercial and technical readiness level to enable it to become a future European industrial leader in micromotors, addressing this very big market in a unique, monetizable, and defendable way.