Founded in 2011, Forge Nano is a global leader in surface engineering and precision nano-coatings using Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD). It specializes in making product improvements using scalable nano-technology and turns laboratory innovations into affordable products with rapid turnaround times. With Forge Nano’s proprietary high-throughput manufacturing processes, precision nano-coatings are now a more accessible solution for applications ranging from Lithium Ion batteries to a wide array of other material applications based on industrial powders, flats and objects at price points that were unthinkable until now. According to Forge, nano-engineered surfaces are enabling the materials of the future.
Comprehensive Range of Services
Forge Nano is an end-to-end material solutions provider. It offers R&D services, toll-coating, and lab-scale to commercial-scale equipment for purchase. Through its R&D services, the company can help find the optimal coatings for customers’ substrates. Toll-coating services cover the full range from lab to commercial-scale, from milligrams per day to kilotons per year. Forge also offers lab-scale, pilot scale, and commercial-scale ALD equipment through its Prometheus, Calypso, and Morpheus tools that are available for purchase.
Perks of a Technical CEO
Paul Lichty, CEO of Forge Nano, realized the potential for scaling up Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) nano-coatings into entirely new applications through his graduate work at UC Boulder. He invented, developed and acquired the company’s core intellectual property for $1 and from his garage started to design, build and operate ALD systems. He envisioned larger-scale tools that could service industrial sectors and scaled up his vision from milligram scale to kiloton per year high-throughput manufacturing equipment. This paradigm shift he brought to ALD has now opened up dozens of new potential markets for surface engineering of industrial powders, objects, and flats.
Quick Decision Making
From the beginning, Forge Nano has had to be very resourceful and fast moving. Early on, the company was given two weeks’ notice that their core patents were going to be abandoned by the University of Colorado, who owned them at the time, due to cost. The founders, two poor graduate students, had to move quickly to negotiate assignment of those patents to the company and come up with $10k to pay lawyers and legal fees to keep the patents moving through the system. Since then the company has paid special attention to IP timelines and opportunities, leading to a very robust patent position.
Having a technical CEO has also led to many revelations about all of the core business functions needed to run a company. The resounding lesson learned through trial and error has been that “you get what you pay for”. Whether it is employees, consultants, or legal counsel, quality costs money but may be cheaper in the end. Forge Nano strives to hire and work with the best people, across all disciplines. The same viewpoint extends to customers as well. Forge is building a world-class customer base whose standards drive the company to excellence. By maintaining high expectations from itself and its partners, the company has been able to raise over $20M in funding and build a world class team that is disrupting several markets simultaneously.
The Question of Scalability
According to Forge Nano, the two biggest challenges in driving adoption of ALD nano-coatings were around scalability and cost. ALD technology had been around for more than 50 years but, other than the semiconductor space, it was largely relegated to small-scale laboratory research. This was in part due to the use of “temporal” ALD using a fluidized bed reactor in which the powders stay in one place and the coating materials are iteratively pulsed and purged into and from the reactor.
This approach lacked the throughput and scalability to go to larger volumes. Forge Nano instituted a paradigm shift to “spatial” ALD in which the powder was now moved through the system stage by stage with a much higher throughput. This spatial approach along with process innovation for maintaining homogeneity in the reactor enabled scale up to tonnage. Similarly Forge Nano’s process equipment does not require the same high degree of vacuum and subsequently costs often associated with ALD.
The high throughput system design is highly capital efficient on a $ per unit of material upgraded. These two biggest challenges of scaling up the design and lowering the cost have been addressed. The company is now focused on demonstrating the efficacy of ALD in a growing number of markets.
ALD offers the potential to nano-engineer the surfaces that will enable the next generation of performance anywhere surface properties can influence the performance of particles or high surface area objects. There are literally dozens of potential new market spaces in which ALD can impart that next level of performance through surface engineering of industrial powders and objects from batteries, catalysts, and 3D printing to displays, pigments, pharmaceuticals and space age materials. Forge Nano’s sustainable core competency is in delivering the flexible, commercial-scale machine architectures to service the needs of a diverse set of markets, bolstered by its in-house R&D and scale up capabilities for driving innovation from the lab to the market.
“Forge Nano has created an elegant and game changing solution for materials challenges across several key products needed for the cars of the future.” – Anonymous Automotive Executive