Techopia Live: Ottawa’s Equispheres leans on local R&D partners for unique metal powder

A well-funded Ottawa startup is turning to a local post-secondary institution for R&D support in hopes of turning a tiny powder into a big win.

Techopia Live broadcast this week from the new STEM facility at the University of Ottawa, a sponsor of the show. The building, which opened just last month, offers prototyping space to students across faculties in an attempt to foster collaboration, in addition to space for research labs and engineering work.

It was an appropriate backdrop for guest Kevin Nicholds, CEO of Equispheres. The company has garnered attention from some of the biggest aerospace, defence and medical firms in the world, Nicholds told Techopia Live, for its unique metal powder.

The Ottawa-based company’s powder solves a common issue in additive manufacturing, according to Nicholds. With applications such as printing a metal component for use in an aircraft, there’s little room for error in the material composition.

“Legacy metal powder is made in a very chaotic fashion, they’re all different shapes and sizes, different properties,” Nicholds explained.

With Equispheres, as the name implies, each particle of powder is uniform, giving manufacturers a consistent medium for constructing critical components.

The local firm has solicited more than $20 million in investment from local angels as well as large companies – U.S. defence giant Lockheed Martin pumped US$5 million into the firm just this past spring. Nicholds told Techopia Live that Equispheres also just landed an $8-million loan from the Business Development Bank of Canada in recognition of its sustainability aspects.

In developing its unique powder, Equispheres has worked with half a dozen post-secondary institutions as well as governmental bodies such as the National Research Council. With the University of Ottawa, the company tested a “cold spray” application, a process by which the metal powder is accelerated to speeds of one kilometre per second to stick to a base material.

“University of Ottawa uncovered that our powder adhered to the surface at least three times better than other powders,” Nicholds said.

In addition to bringing in students and new graduates to help the firm grow, Nicholds told Techopia Live that leveraging connections with universities has been essential to capitalize on this fast-moving market. The more research Equispheres has access to, the more readily it can capture the powder’s potential.

“It’s just ramping up our production, our learnings, our applications knowledge as quickly as we can because we have something very special and we don’t want to miss this great opportunity,” he said.

“We learn new things about our powder every day, it seems.”

To watch the full video from the University of Ottawa’s STEM facility, watch the video above.