Fusion Coolant Systems Cracks Big Problems in Manufacturing, Now Needs Customers

11/15/10

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change very quickly,” Andrew McColm, a co-founder and financial chief of the startup, says. “This is an extremely radical change. And this is very different from the way people have machined in the past.”

McColm is leading efforts to raise between $500,000 and $1 million from private investors, he says, enough money to enable the firm to get six to a dozen customers up and running with its system in their plants. The University of Michigan has awarded $227,000 in gap funding to develop the firm’s technology, and this year the startup received $220,000 more via a Small Business Innovation Research grant to get the business some early support, according to the university’s tech transfer office.

Still, there are other firms that are offering new ways to provide improved coolants or lubricants for machining. For example, companies are offering lubricant sprays that reduce the amount of metalworking fluids that are needed to cut metal. However, Skerlos says, such products primarily lubricate while Fusion’s technology both lubricates and cools the metal with a single system.

Skerlos previously co-founded Accuri Cytometers, a venture-backed Ann Arbor firm that makes inexpensive flow cytometers for life sciences customers. (In fact, Skerlos’s original idea for Accuri was inspired by research that required him to measure and study bacteria in machining fluids.) Tom Gross, the startup’s CEO, is a veteran of the machine tool industry.

The startup’s team is not naive about the challenges of starting a new company whose success will require manufacturers to break with deeply ingrained tradition, and the company realizes that it will need to deliver productivity gains to its customers as well as health and environmental improvements. The firm will also need to do some engineering to customize the system for the specific lubrication and cooling needs of certain machining operations.

“[Customers] don’t care about better cutting fluids, they care about better machining,” Skerlos says.

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