Paint robot from Delft startup creates lightning-fast revolution

26 July 2022 13:00

Bridges, airplanes, windmills: large objects like these are exposed to the weather elements on a daily basis. Applying a special kind of paint helps to extend their life. In 2017, Josefien Groot and Ruben Geutjens, then Delft students, saw that the method of coating with this paint could be more sustainable and efficient in many ways. With their company Qlayers, they aim to revolutionize the coating industry.

Less waste, more safety

Geutjens, the technical brains behind Qlayers, invented a printing method in 2017 to apply special microstructures in coatings that reduces water and air resistance. However, if these microstructures were ever to be used in industry, it was first essential to focus on automating the current manual coating process. For that reason, Geutjens and his R&D team developed a printhead that can automatically apply paint in a highly controlled manner. The printhead can be integrated with various actuation systems (robots) to allow the printhead to move along surfaces.

The new process has several advantages. For starters it saves coating, or paint. In addition, the desired layer thickness and quality can be set precisely. Furthermore, less manpower is needed. On top of that, fewer people work at unsafe heights. There are also no harmful effects on the environment, as no paint mist is released. Last but not least, the new layer of coating is more evenly distributed over the surface than when the paint is applied in the traditional way, with a roller, for example.

Applications pour in

Rabobank has been supportive as a financial partner from the very start. To boost their innovation in the start-up phase, Qlayers received a €15,000 contribution from the Rabo Innovation Fund in 2019. After further development of the business case, a year later, a Rabo Innovation Loan of € 150,000 was added. That loan helped Qlayers purchase all the necessary equipment for a successful pilot.

Successful is an understatement so far. Without engaging in targeted marketing, the applications are pouring in and the startup is already making a profit. Including storage tanks in Texas, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, wind turbine blades in Denmark and Portugal and a ship at the Damen Shipyards have been or are being coated with Qlayers.

In fact, Qlayers has a luxury problem, now that its paint system is basically suitable for any large surface that needs a new coat of paint. It is now betting on tanks, ships, (wind turbine) blades, towers and monopiles. A next step lies in even better application of the coating. A paint layer that has a so-called shark skin structure leads to less resistance. A ship sails more economically and faster because of this, for example.

Conquering the US

The company continues to grow. Significant financing from Rabobank is helping to further develop the company. “Every six months we meet to discuss the further development of the company and see how we can help this successful, now scale-up, grow in a sustainable way. We do that with financing solutions on the one hand, and by deploying our knowledge and network on the other”, explains Robbert Lut, Startup & Scale-up banker at Rabobank.

To expand the business to the United States, Qlayers uses the ScaleNL program; especially for Dutch tech companies that want to take this leap. As a partner in this program, Rabobank is also involved with Qlayers in this way.

Groot is full of praise for the cooperation with Rabobank. “I sincerely think that there are not many banks, where a scale-up team is so enormously involved in all growth phases as Rabobank. Scale-up bankers Robbert Lut and Fabian Groeneveld are involved and particularly open to our feedback. Qlayers is capital-intensive because we develop deep-tech hardware that we deploy globally. That requires creative financing options and they are an important sparring partner in this regard. Rabobank has become a true financing partner for Qlayers; we look forward to a bright future together.”

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