Founders Fund is leading the financing of composite startup Layup Parts

Only five months after its founding, the hard tech startup Layup parts has received a $9 million funding round led by Founders Fund to transform composites manufacturing. Lux Capital and Stog sijena also participated.

The dizzying pace is a more than subtle indication that investors’ appetite for technology-focused solutions to the problems of the US industrial base is not waning. But Layup was probably able to close a large round of financing so quickly, at least in part because the founders themselves have extensive experience with the problems plaguing domestic manufacturing.

Layup was founded by Zack Eakin, Hanno Kappen and Elisa Suarez; the trio met while working at The Boring Company, Elon Musk’s idiosyncratic effort to transform transportation using tunnels. Kappen went on to work at robotic pizzeria Stellar Pizza, while Suarez worked at Rivian and renewable energy company Heliogen.

Eakin, CEO of Layup, moved to Anduril in 2021 as director of engineering. He led the mechanical design of the company’s flying drone package, including Roadrunnerwhich was just «Palmer’s (Luckey’s) idea when I started,» he said in a recent interview.

Eakin would still be with Anduril, he says, if it weren’t for the idea to start Layup. «It was born out of a need that we had in Anduril – a need that the world has that became poignant during my time there,» he said.

Most areas of manufacturing have changed during Eakin’s career, except for composites, he said. Companies like Protolabs, Xometry, and Fictiva have introduced innovations in processes like CNC machining, sheet metal cutting, and injection molding. These companies (and many others) developed a simple, almost Amazon-like experience for rapid hardware production, and it left a lasting mark on the industry.

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But there was no equivalent innovation in the production of composite parts. There are several reasons for this, Eakin said. The first is that existing composites manufacturers are not well trained to develop the software tools required for this; another is that composites are more artisanal and more difficult to automate at certain process steps. Therefore, bringing the number of people in the production loop close to zero is inherently more difficult.

The Roadrunner is a good example: it has a lot of composite components, but sourcing those components is time-consuming and expensive. It’s normal for an engineer to have to wait up to two weeks to get a quote back from the manufacturer (as opposed to 10 minutes with a service like Protolabs); after he cuts the purchase order to the supplier, the wait stretches to maybe a week or two for small and simple parts, up to four or five months for something more complicated or larger.

Instead, Layup aims to return small parts in three days, and for larger components, the company plans two weeks—all at a lower cost to the customer. «I think we can be 10 times faster, and in terms of tooling and upfront costs, we can be half of what you would typically pay today,» Eakin estimated.

In general, Eakin didn’t seem too concerned about the competition; many of the leading composites companies are owned by PE firms, and those firms tend to focus on landing larger, long-term contracts rather than faster-turnaround development programs, he said.

«I believe the long-term, high-value contracts of tomorrow are being developed today,» he said. «If you work with people in development and understand their needs and can deliver quality parts to them, you’ll provide better service and put yourself in a better position to win those contracts by focusing on things that may make less sense in the boardroom, which is focused on development and speed.»

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The biggest part of the company’s work ahead and where it will stand out the most is in the software domain, although it will likely be a few years before Layup can accept any CAD model from customers and deliver a part in a matter of days. But that doesn’t mean the company isn’t making fast progress: With the new funding, Layup aims to have a factory producing parts for customers online by the end of the third quarter of this year.

That means the $9 million will primarily go toward capital expenditures such as a larger building and additional equipment, as well as hiring on the software side and technicians at the plant.

There’s been a lot of talk out of Silicon Valley — often frenzied — about the many woes facing America’s industrial base, including an aging workforce and an over-reliance on tribal knowledge. But Eakin said what really motivates him is thinking about all the engineering students who can’t wait to build but face huge barriers to entry because of outdated processes. Layup wants to change that.

«The idea that we can provide that to young students so they can realize the things they want to build — that’s what really makes me excited about what we’re doing. That’s the thing that I think has happened to all these other areas of manufacturing and composites has been left behind. Whether we’re fixing the supply chain, the aging demographic, that’s great. And we will do it. That’s perfect. What excites me is being able to bring good composite parts and make them accessible to all people.”

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