LEO Lane, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based software company, is positioning itself as a resource for manufacturers to get more consistent results from 3D printing.
“In an industrial setting, you must have consistency,” said Lee-Bath Nelson, a LEO Lane vice president and co-founder. “Software is well suited to provide consistency.” With additive manufacturing, “we’ve shifted from something aimed for prototypes to a more mature ecosystem and we can talk about production. That shift brings challenges. Prototypes are very forgiving. Designers can say, “Imagine it was smoother. Imagine the red was Coca-Cola red.”
As AM is used more to produce finished parts, things aren’t as forgiving. According to LEO Lane, its software is a way to overcome that. Also, Nelson said, the software can safeguard designs and other intellectual property, commonly known as IP. “When you talk about potential IP leakage, that’s something that keeps them up at night,” she added, referring to customers.
Leveraging a LEO
According to LEO Lane, customers identify which parts they want to 3D print and establish how they should be produced. The company says a LEO, or Limited Edition Object, is made. LEO Lane, in a statement, described a LEO as “a digital asset file that protects and preserves a digital product or part design by controlling how it is additively manufactured.”
According to LEO Lane, its software “tracks the production and processing of all LEOs, providing a dashboard showing real-time data of when, where, and how each item was produced.” The company’s cloud “holds no files; it only acts in a supervisory and enforcement capacity.”
Using this digital process, a customer “can maintain all its files based on its own internal
IT policies and procedures. The corporation’s design intent is enforced and it can specify how many items (instances) can be produced from a particular LEO file.”
As a result, customers can move to distributed additive manufacturing (DAM), allowing them
to implement on-demand manufacturing near the demand and use virtual inventory instead of incurring storage and handling costs.
Starting with Small Manufacturers
LEO Lane began as a startup, founded in 2014. Initially, it dealt mostly with smaller manufacturers. “We were making progress,” Nelson said. “We were initially focused on small designers. Two-and-a-half years ago, we started dipping our toes with large companies.”
LEO Lane got more interest from bigger companies than it expected, Nelson said. “What really surprised us is when we went to these large companies, they said, ‘Let’s talk.’ We had to adjust our outlook. The breakthrough was when we realized this is something we could take to the largest and most interesting companies” and they were interested in LEO Lane software.
Because it must abide by nondisclosure agreements, LEO Lane can’t discuss details about its customers, particularly those that are large companies. Nelson did say that 3D printing is being used more at large companies than the general public realizes.
Some companies acknowledge using additive manufacturing to make jigs and fixtures as part of production, but there is much more activity occurring besides that, according to Nelson.
She has been a venture capitalist and is a big believer in AM. “I’ve been following this ecosystem for almost 20 years now,” Nelson said, referring to additive manufacturing. She is convinced that the additive manufacturing industry is on the cusp of major growth. “People are moving into production and that’s awesome,” Nelson said.