TriFusion Devices, a startup founded by Brandon Sweeney, CTO, and Blake Teipel, CEO, doctoral students in the materials science and engineering department at Texas A&M University, won the $400,000 grand prize in the Rice Business Plan Competition held April 14-16 in Houston. Sweeney and Teipel developed a coating that uses carbon nanotubes to improve the weld strength of the plastic polymers used in 3D printing. Each nanotube is stronger than steel and bonds with other materials when heated. The process can be used to improve the strength of 3D-printed prosthetic devices.
“We apply a microwave heat treatment that only heats up that thin layer, the carbon nanotube coating. The plastic itself remains cool so your part doesn’t turn into a puddle of molten plastic and you really focus a high-intensity microwave field from an applicator aimed at that part that you just printed, which causes a local fusion welding process,” Sweeney told The Battalion, Texas A&M’s student newspaper.
Teipel said the company plans to produce 50 prosthetic devices in the next year and collaborate with private and public clinics, including the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston; the Dallas VA Medical Center; and Central Texas Orthotics and Prosthetics, Bryan, Texas.
Rice University’s Rice Business Plan Competition is an initiative devoted to the support of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship education, and the launch of technology companies. The winner is selected by 275 judges from the investment sector as representing the best investment opportunity. TriFusion was one of nearly 700 teams considered, one of 42 invited to the final presentation, and named the grand prize winner after four rounds of judging.