Emerging Entrepreneurs

Making material change to fabrication tech

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on August 20, 2018

Fabheads has automated the fabrication process and developed a 3D printer to print carbon fibre parts

Dhinesh Kanagaraj, who passed out of IIT-Madras with a B.Tech in Aerospace Engineering in 2011, says his was one of the lucky batches. For, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) was recruiting on campus and Dhinesh found himself with a job at ISRO, where he worked for three years on various projects. Prior to that, he had interned at National Aerospace Laboratories while still in college, when he worked on projects related to monitoring composite structures.

Dhinesh says he worked on some amazing projects in ISRO, but was not happy at the pace at which things were happening. “I felt I could do a lot more,” he says, on why he quit ISRO and turned an entrepreneur.

He was clear that his venture should have something to do with the projects he had worked on at ISRO. It was in August 2015 that he decided to start a venture and incorporated Fabheads Automation in December 2015. The idea behind starting Fabheads was to do something in carbon fibre materials; it is like steel and aluminium, light weight and extremely strong.

Dhinesh says use of carbon fibre components was only going to increase due to its properties, especially in industries such as aerospace, satellite building, automobiles, wind energy and defence. “This (carbon fibre) is an advanced material that is coming into commercial use,” he says of carbon fibre.

Automating the fabrication

According to him, he had worked with carbon fibre while studying engineering and at ISRO. “I did see some problems. There is a lot of material wastage that happens. Most of the fabrication is done manually,” he says. His idea was to automate the fabrication part, to eliminate wastage and improve efficiency, which will help save costs and reduce the time taken for making the components. “If we develop this fabrication technology,” adds Dhinesh, “we can start offering it to even ISRO and Defence Research and Development Organisation. We can offer this technology even for small products and scale it up for bigger ones.” Dhinesh says he worked on the idea for almost eight months, out of a garage in Chennai and came up with different iterations of the technology. His venture got incubated at IIT-M Incubation Cell in March 2016, after which he was able to get access to more facilities to meet the testing requirements. Fabheads was also able to build prototypes. “Where we are right now is, we have a demonstrated technology. We have developed equipment that can fabricate some carbon fibre parts completely automated. People are now interested. DRDO and some private sector companies are approaching us for automating some of the products they have,” says Dhinesh.

In the meantime, Dhinesh says, small and medium enterprises started approaching Fabheads asking about fabrication services. Fabheads has also developed a 3D printer to print carbon fibre parts. For SMEs, Fabheads will offer fabrication services, while it will offer the technology to the larger companies. It plans to launch the 3D printer, which will cost about ₹80 lakh, after about six months. The technology for fabrication and the 3D printer has been developed completely in-house, according to him.

He says being part of the IIT-M Incubation Cell gave them access to the composites technology centre at IIT-Madras, where they were able to test out the parts and prototypes of the 3D printer. The company was also helped by the mentors they could tap into at the incubation cell. Members of the Keiretsu Forum, which invested in Fabheads, have been excellent mentors of the company, says Dhinesh. Specifically, S Gopal and Rajan Srikanth have helped Fabheads in business development, fund raising and go-to-market strategies.

According to Dhinesh, Fabheads is talking to a few early adapters. “They have given us designs and we are fabricating parts for them.” Fabheads identified one customer each from the automobile, satellite, drone and biomedical industry for the initial work, as it expects a bulk of its orders to come from these four sectors.

Services in the offing

“For the next six months, we are only going to offer services to fabricate the parts. We already have interests from companies like ABB to buy the machines. We are not selling them immediately,” says Dhinesh. There are interests from quite a few large private sector companies to custom develop products for them. Fabheads, according to Dhinesh, will have to develop the prototypes and prove their capability before tapping that business opportunity.

According to him, the money Fabheads raised from Keiretsu Forum is part of a larger round, of ₹3.8 crore, that it is looking to raise. It will need the money for marketing business development.

Dhinesh says there is a large global opportunity too waiting to be tapped. But for companies to buy their products, it will require a huge leap of faith as they have to buy from a start-up.

“We are confident it will happen,” he says.

Published on August 20, 2018

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