photo of a abstract art in black background

The Virtual Foundry creates new frontiers

By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller

Bradley Woods is a multi-faceted innovator.

Woods spent most of his career in software development. In his free time, he indulged in his passion for art. Both a painter and a sculptor, Woods longed to create art using metal, but he did not have access to a metal foundry.

Undeterred, Woods began to experiment with ways to create a three-dimensional metal work. He tried electroplating, a process that uses electrical current to deposit metal onto a solid surface, as a substitution for poured metal, but he was unsatisfied with the results.

Later, he received a 3D printer from a friend. The gift sparked an idea.

Woods was uninterested in the plastic models generated from the 3D printer, so he began to experiment with ways to create metal objects using the tool. He tried mixing powdered metals with a thermal polymer and ran it through the machine to see if he could create a metal object.

The results of this experiment were magnificent and became the basis of his company, The Virtual Foundry.

Launched in 2015, Woods patented the technology that allows people to create solid metal objects using his materials and a 3D printer. Sold by the kilo, his metal filaments start at $120 for copper or bronze and move up to $1,200 for titanium filaments.

“If you consider $1,200 per kilo and you’re only using 12 grams of the material, it’s way less expensive than the other manufacturing techniques. A traditional manufacturing technique would be considered subtractive. You start with a large block, and you carve away the things you don’t want. All of the material you carve away is waste that gets thrown out. This is how traditional machining and CNC (computer numerical control) machining works,” Woods explained.

“This is a crucial advantage of additive manufacturing, you only add the parts you need,” he continued.

Woods spent years perfecting the process that allowed him to produce his filament on a commercial scale. Scientists are some of his most enthusiastic customers.

“Our biggest customers are the Office of Science National Laboratories…. The military also has a network of research labs, and we do all four branches of the military,” Woods said.

“The scientists working with this stuff are looking for, not an evolutionary improvement on something. They want a revolutionary improvement… It’s a chance to rethink manufacturing,” he said.

Not only are some of the most advanced labs in the country using The Virtual Foundry materials, so do some of the nation’s largest companies. Lockheed Martin, Mitsubishi, and NASA are among the company’s long list of clients.  

The bootstrapped company had a unique start. Woods launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the company. The online campaign collected $32,000, and perhaps more surprising, an invitation to speak about this invention in the Hubble Auditorium on the Lockheed Martin campus. Woods calls the experience a “nerd highlight.”

The Qualified New Business Venture certified company is again considering a capital raise, but Woods knows the task won’t be easy.

“Part of what makes our company unique is that it’s based on an invention. What I didn’t fully understand is that anything based on something that’s new has no existing market. It’s been very difficult to get investors to understand what we’re doing,” Woods said.

“I think some of the upsides look improbably large… It seems improbable, but it is happening,” he continued.  “For example, one of the materials we made is this moondust simulant. We’re about to release a filament 3D printable moondust simulant that scientists will use for developing methods of fabricating on the moon with the resources that are there.”

To follow the rise of this unique Wisconsin company, connect with them here.

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