The Future of CT Scanning

Photo by Lumafield

Lumafield is CT scanning for the industrial manufacturing masses

While the annals of history are rightly littered with the names of the inventors of wondrous technologies and breakthrough products, the true value of these innovations is only fully realized when they become widely accessible. Electricity, computers, genetic sequencing and thousands of other major advancements have only had their extensive effect on society after they became naturally ubiquitous.

I recently published a post on “Securities” about how the world needs more investments in capabilities and not markets, writing that:

Products that at first seem to have utility only to a small set of customers suddenly connect with markets no one had ever thought about. It’s a pattern I’ve seen the last few months across at least satellites and space, biotech, web3, enterprise infrastructure, autonomous vehicles, and silicon. Once a capability exists, the number of applications always seem to expand as we learn more about what it offers and how it performs.

That’s true, but one of the critical factors which explains this expansion in applications is price. It’s not just that applications show up — they become enabled, both from lower costs as well as continuous improvements. It’s a story we’re going to focus on today in the context of multi-spectrum computed tomography (CT).

CT scans are popularly known from the medical world, where they are used to provide physicians with information on bones, blood vessels and other structures in the human body. A CT scan is composed of a series of X-ray photographs targeting the same location from different angles which are then stitched together using algorithms to create a three-dimensional representation of the object under study.

It’s a great example of intersecting hardware and software capabilities. Carefully calibrated X-ray machines have to be coupled with intricate computer vision software to orchestrate a high-resolution and readable image. As the capabilities of both hardware and software improved, CT scans consequently became richer and clearer, making them more useful.

While they may be most recognized from our experiences at hospitals, CT scans are also used in some industrial applications, like manufacturing. However, they are extremely expensive, and the software to manipulate them relies on decades-old user interfaces. As a consequence, the vast majority of industrial inspection is still conducted exclusively on the exterior of objects through metrology (think calipers to measure external dimensions), and more recently, with 3D scanning.

However, quality control is only obtained by knowing the insides of parts, where flaws may be introduced due to design, manufacturing processes, materials science, or repeated use. CT scans allow everyone from designers to quality assurance teams to peer into a product and evaluate whether it meets specifications. The result is more rapid iteration, better quality, and less rework, ultimately saving costs for consumers.

Industrial CT scanners can easily reach into the millions of dollars, and that’s before the specialized labor for operating this equipment is included. This isn’t a capability that a company can just grab off the shelf and place on the assembly line, but rather a long-term capital investment that requires extensive planning.

We have been interested in improving the access to this technology for some time here at Lux Capital. We’ve seen how developments in computer vision can transform industries like construction, mobility and biothereapeutics, and we’ve also seen how much manufacturing needs to be modernized. In addition, we also know that access to observable imaging data allows us to simulate in-silico, leading to significant reductions in future development cycles and product improvements. Capabilities are lacking here, which we saw as an opportunity for the right startup.

So when we met Eduardo Torrealba, the founder of Lumafield, we knew we had discovered someone who had a vision for what was possible at the nexus of product design, manufacturing and computer vision. He wanted to bring CT scanning to all companies, with easier-to-use hardware and software coupled with a financial model that allowed any company — big to small — to afford this capability in their processes. We co-led the company’s seed round in 2019 with Kleiner Perkins and our partner Bilal Zuberi joined the board. We also invested in its Series A round led by DCVC, and now, we’re ready to talk about what Lumafield is building as it emerges from stealth.

It’s already been making a splash: Scan of the Month, its surreptitiously branded site showing off what the combination of its Neptune scanner and Voyager software platform can do, has been an internet viral sensation. You can see all the innards of AirPods, Game Boys, and instant cameras to see what’s possible with the company’s technology. Lumafield already has several of the biggest brands in the world as customers using its system in production, with many more now on the wait list.

Lumafield innovated in three major directions to make CT scanning a routine part of manufacturing and product design. First, its hardware scanner is compact, packed with the best scanning tech, and easy to use. Second, it has coupled its scanner with a cloud collaborative software platform that will allow whole teams to work together with scans as part of their workflow — bringing scanning to the center of the manufacturing process rather than on the fringes.

Third and perhaps most importantly, Lumafield is innovating on the CT scanner business model and embedding financing into its price. Rather than forcing companies to outlay for expensive scanning hardware, the company is offering the hardware and software together for a price as low as $3,000 per month. It’s an affordable price point that should open up scanning to a whole new spectrum of businesses.

The result is that Lumafield goes far beyond industrial inspection to offer repeatable scanning so that designers are empowered to tinker and debug their ideas faster. Perhaps most importantly, this capability will encourage designers to experiment with new processes and materials in a way they might be hesitant to do today. One of the hindrances with moving toward global sustainability is the anchor of previous experience in manufacturing. Lumafield offers designers a chance to prove that better alternatives are working, and approach manufacturing from a much more sustainable light.

We’ve gone on record that we will no longer tolerate the decline of American manufacturing. We’re investing in companies that can transform how we manufacture so that the future is bright for industry bringing great products to all of us. That includes Lumafield and innovative manufacturing and tech companies like Desktop Metal, Shapeways, Hadrian, Veo Robotics, Formic, and several others.

Lumafield is a reminder that some technologies like CT scanning are not done innovating. Even decades after its invention back in 1967 by Godfrey Hounsfield, there is more work to be done to force costs lower; utilize software to access, manipulate, share, and analyze data; and drive overall improvement in product development and production. When it comes to the capability of CT scanning for industrial manufacturing, we’re just getting started.

Life and longing in Miami and New York City

Cory Van Lew’s “Delta, 2022” series on display at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami. Photo by Danny Crichton
Cory Van Lew’s “Delta, 2022” series on display at the Institute for Contemporary Art, Miami. Photo by Danny Crichton

Juxtapositions. That’s all I could think about when I saw news that a man, who government authorities have now identified and charged, had thrown smoke bombs and shot dozens of bullets at harried morning commuters at the 36th Street N/D/R subway platform in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

I was sitting in Miami for our semi-annual offsite, enveloped in radiant and serene heat — humidity cooly low — watching the news eviscerate the headlines and cable news televisions. New York City had been cold, wet and dreary for weeks, and the prospects of a bit of soleil certainly brightened the domineering grey.

But as with so much about securities, the insecurities of our world are never all that far away. Outside the temporary paradise of Miami, the world’s troubles continued unabated. Millions of Chinese citizens remain hermetically sealed in their apartments to combat Covid, even as food rations run scarce, triggering potent memories of the worse episodes of the Middle Kingdom’s history. Russia continued its destruction of Ukraine, France once again brought a far-right leader to the second round of a presidential election, and Chile’s constitutional rewrite is potentially teetering into failure.

Constant vigilance is the tragedy of our world and the everlasting duty for all of us. Except in Miami. It’s an escape — but it’s not Mars. And it’s the center of the world, a world that’s burning and sinking and flooding. As Joel Stein profiled in my favorite piece so far this year:

The last time Miami was relevant, it wasn’t important. In the 1980s, Miami provided nothing more than drugs, clubs, pastel blazers, jai alai gambling and, most notably, a hit TV show about all four. But now Miami is the most important city in America. Not because Miami stopped being a frivolous, regulation-free, climate-doomed tax haven dominated by hot microcelebrities. It became the most important city in America because the country became a frivolous, regulation-free, climate-doomed tax haven dominated by hot microcelebrities.

It’s an apt description, and while the respite and offsite work was pleasant, it’s so great to be home again in New York City where reality exists, for better and for worse.

Podcast: Redlines for diplomacy and business

This week, there were indications that Russia used chemical weapons in its conflict in Ukraine. Such an event would violate international laws and cross an American redline.

“Redlines” in war are meant to be objective and unambiguous tests for a country to respond to another nation’s action. Redlines though are often ambiguous, used poorly, and their deterrence effect is often diminished by a lack of credibility. How should leaders — from politicians to entrepreneurs — think about redlines? To answer that, I was joined by Josh Wolfe and General Tony “T2” Thomas, the 11th Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and venture partner at Lux Capital, to talk all things redlines from our hotel lobby in sunny Miami.

Listen to the Episode on Anchor, or click through to links to Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Lux Recommends

  • Our scientist-in-residence Sam Arbesman read Chuck Klosterman’s new book The Nineties. Klosterman, who is known for his extensive pop culture essays including the hit Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs and coverage of the music industry, dives into all the highlights of what is increasingly looking like a unique interregnum between the Cold War and the post-9/11 world. Klosterman delivers a tour-de-force retrospective of a decade that fewer and fewer have experienced — or even can imagine.
  • I have been interested in societal collapse and disasters for a while both here at Lux Capital and at TechCrunch. Adam Van Buskirk has an insightful critique in Palladium that “Collapse Won’t Reset Society.” Rather than changing everything, collapses triggered by pandemics, famines, or ravaging climates often strengthen existing governance rather than weaken it.
  • What are the lessons of Desert Storm? Christopher A. Lawrence published an exchange with DIA analyst William (Chip) Sayers about the planning leading up to the early-90s conflict, and what analysts got right — and how much they never knew.
  • Finally, Sam recommends Erik Hoel’s article “How to prevent the coming inhuman future.” Hoel writes, “So, in some ways, keeping humanity human should be as central a pillar to longtermism as minimizing existential risk (the chance of Earth being wiped out in the future), both because of the innate moral value of humanity qua humanity and also because for inhuman futures we cannot make moral judgements regardless.”

That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply.