Just as digital transformation has swept through other industries, so the construction sector faces growing pressure to embrace innovation – to reduce cost, accelerate projects and mitigate climate change impacts. The Swiss start-up SAEKI, which is today announcing a $2.3 million seed funding round, believes it is poised to play a leading role in driving such change.
“SAEKI was born with the objective of changing how we think about large-scale manufacturing,” says Andrea Perissinotto, who co-founded the business with Oliver Harley and Matthias Leschok in 2021. “Our vision is to transform the manufacturing process by combining robotics with 3D printing, machining and inspection.”
In construction, Perissinotto explains, structures are built from concrete using bespoke molds that typically have to be hand-made from wood. This is time-consuming and wasteful, since the wood is typically scrapped once the mold has been used. SAEKI, by contrast, has developed a robot incorporating a 3D printer that can produced the same molds from recyclable material. The mold can be printed and delivered to the construction site far more quickly than a carpenter would produce the wooden version, and the material can be reused once the mold is no longer needed onsite.
3D printing, or additive manufacturing as it is known in an industrial context, is not a new technology but its use in large-scale manufacturing is at a relatively early stage, says Perissinotto. “We focused our attention on this and chose to build fully automated factories that consist of independent micro-factories.” SAEKI’s business model is an as-a-service concept – it envisages customers booking time with its robots rather than buying them outright.
That will require the company to develop a number of hubs so that it can get closer to customers in their local markets, rather than having to ship bulky products over long distances. The first of those hubs is taking shape in Switzerland, enabling SAEKI to target customers in the country and in neighbouring Germany and Austria, but Perissinotto believes the potential is international. “Our next major milestone will be to establish more micro-factory hubs in other parts of the world, making SAEKI one of the global players in large-scale digital manufacturing.”
Importantly, while the construction sector is an important target market for SAEKI, the company is also taking aim at other industries. In areas such as aerospace and automotive, for example, manufacturers also use molds to produce very large parts and components. SAEKI’s robots can switch to printing in materials more suitable for these molds and stresses its speed of production as a major advantage over traditional processes.
The company is at a relatively early stage, having spent the past two years working with a number of clients on experimental pilot projects to fine-tune its technology. A new pavilion planned for construction in Lausanne is one early example of how SAEKI hopes its technology can be put to work, with the company collaborating with Holcim, Sika and Losinger Marazzi on the project.
Nevertheless, Perissinotto believes the company’s funding round will be a milestone moment for the business, marking its emergence from stealth. “The goal is to reach a point where we can have increased production capacity and start tackling bigger projects, moving from a validation and prototyping stage to full-scale production,” he explains.
Co-founder Matthias Leschok is also looking to the future. “In 10 years from now SAEKI envisions lights-out factories filled with SAEKI microfactories,” he says. “They will be autonomously producing complex, material and weight-saving formwork for the construction industry, fixtures and tooling for super-sonic jets or composite molds for the next generation formula one cars.”
The company’s investors insist such ambition is not misplaced, with the round led by Wingman Ventures and supported by Vento Ventures, Getty Capital and a number of angel investors. “SAEKI’s groundbreaking approach to distributed additive manufacturing has the power to revolutionise sectors from aerospace to construction through disruptive technology, local production and sustainable materials,” says Edouard Treccani, Principal at Wingman.