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Founders Fund leads financing of composites startup Layup Parts

Scarcely five months after its founding, hard tech startup Layup Parts has landed a $9 million round of financing led by Founders Fund to transform composites manufacturing. Lux Capital and Haystack also participated.

The breakneck pace is more than a subtle indication that investors’ appetite for tech-focused solutions to the woes of the American industrial base is not going down. But Layup was likely able to close a large funding round so quickly at least in part because the founders themselves have deep experience with the issues that plague 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 had stints at Rivian and renewable energy company Heliogen. 

Eakin, Layup’s CEO, moved to Anduril in 2021 as director of mechanical engineering. He headed up the mechanical design of the company’s suite of flying drone products, including Roadrunner, which was just “a Palmer [Luckey] idea when I started,” he said in a recent interview. 

Eakin would still be with Anduril, he says, if not for the idea to found Layup. “It was born out of a need that we had at Anduril — a need that the world has that became poignant during my time there,” he said.

Most areas of manufacturing have changed over the course of Eakin’s career, except composites, he said. Companies like Protolabs, Xometry and Fictiv have innovated processes like CNC-machining, sheet metal cutting and injection molding. These companies (and many others) have developed a frictionless, almost Amazon-like experience to getting hardware manufactured rapidly, and that’s left a permanent mark on the industry. 

But there’s been no equivalent innovation in composite parts manufacturing. There are a few reasons for this, Eakin said. The first is that existing composites manufacturers aren’t well leveraged to develop the software tools required to do it well; the other is that composites are more artisanal and less easily automatable in certain steps of the process. So bringing the number of humans in the manufacturing loop close to zero is inherently more tricky. 

Roadrunner is a good example: It has a lot of composite components, but getting 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 a manufacturer (as opposed to 10 minutes with a service like Protolabs); after cutting the supplier a purchase order, the wait extends to maybe a week or two for a small and simple part, to up to four or five months for something more complicated or large.

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

In general, Eakin did not seem too concerned with the competition; many of the top 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 that the long-term, high-value contracts of tomorrow are in development today,” he said. “If you work with people in development, and you understand their needs, and you can deliver quality parts for them, you will provide a better service and put yourself in a better position to get those contracts by focusing on the thing that may make less sense in a boardroom, which is focusing on development and speed.” 

The bulk of the work ahead for the company, and where it will most strongly be able to differentiate itself, is in the software domain, though it will likely be a few years until 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 moving fast: With the new funding, Layup aims to have a factory online making parts for customers by the end of the third quarter of this year. 

That means the $9 million will primarily go to capital expenditures like a bigger building and more equipment, as well as hiring on both the software side and for factory floor technicians. 

There’s been a lot of talk — often frantic — from Silicon Valley about the many woes facing the U.S. industrial base, including an aging workforce and an over-reliance on tribal knowledge. But Eakin said what really motivates him is thinking of all the engineering students who are itching to build but face high barriers to entry due to outdated processes. Layup is looking to change that.

“The idea of being able to provide that to young students so that they can realize the things that they want to build — that’s the thing that actually 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 or not we’re fixing a supply chain, aging demographics, that’s cool. We’ll do that too. That’s great. The thing that makes me stoked is the ability to bring good composite parts and making that available to all people.”

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