BMW i Ventures Invests in Silicon Valley-based Flexible Circuit Maker CelLink
【Summary】BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of automaker BMW focused on investing in advanced technologies, today announced an investment in CelLink, a San Carlos, CA-based manufacturer of flexible circuit technology. Flexible circuits have the potential for widespread use in the manufacturing of electric vehicles.
BMW i Ventures, the venture capital arm of automaker BMW focused on investing in advanced technologies, today announced an investment in CelLink, a San Carlos, CA-based manufacturer of flexible circuit technology. Flexible circuits have the potential for widespread use in the manufacturing of electric vehicles, as well as in data transmission circuits for connected vehicles.
Also participating in the $22.5 million Series B funding round was Ford Motor Co. and Robert Bosch Venture Capital. CelLink previously received a total of $35M in funding, including a 2017 Series A investment led by 3M Ventures.
CelLink, founded in 2012, specializes in developing lightweight and low-cost flexible circuits. These flexible circuits can replace bulky harnesses and conventional wiring with thin conductive circuits sandwiched between two sheets of flexible plastic. CelLink's flat flexible circuits can provide weight reduction of up to 70% with a 90% reduction in volume.
Common applications for flexible circuits include, consumer electronics and telecommunications. The company's products are well-suited for power and signal transmission applications including automotive wiring, battery packs, LED lighting and photovoltaics.
The new funding will be used to support CelLink's operations and scale production at its first manufacturing facility through 2019. The company intends to bring a new production facility online in 2020 or 2021 to meet the growing demand for its flexible circuits.
CelLink was originally funded through a 2014 US Department of Energy Sunshot grant designed to support research and development of new technologies to reduce the costs of solar energy.
CelLink's original focus was to supply connectivity solutions to the solar industry, but its flexible circuit technology was found to be ideal for use in vehicle manufacturing, by reducing the amount of wiring required to link all of the vehicle's electrical and battery systems together.
"We believe CelLink's technology will transform wire harnessing from an ‘old school', simple technology to a more advanced, integrated, multi-purpose, flexible circuit technology with more functionality and lower cost. Automotive wiring is finally becoming high tech," stated Marcus Behrendt, Partner at BMW i Ventures.
A single flex circuit can replace multiple individual circuits on a vehicle. The Tesla Model 3 for example, uses about half the amount of wiring used the Model S due to Tesla engineers increasing the amount of flexible circuits. The flat, flexible circuits are small and lightweight and can fold into nearly any shape, reducing manufacturing costs.
The ability of flex circuits to dissipate heat allow engineers to design them for applications where extreme temperatures and vibrations are common, such as electric vehicles.
For connected vehicle technology, flexible circuits provide much greater control over power and data transmission than traditional round copper wires. CelLinks flexible circuits are 75% lighter and 1/10th the volume of traditional wiring, according to the company. The circuits are also capable of handling high current, making them ideal for use in electric vehicles.
Electric automaker Tesla was granted a patent in 2013 for a flexible circuit design used to connect cells together in a high-voltage battery pack. Tesla's patent application describes a flexible printed circuit connected to the electrodes of each cell in the battery pack for improved manufacturability and reliability, according to the filing.
The upcoming Tesla Model Y crossover is likely to feature additional flex circuit technology to further reduce the amount of wiring. While the Model 3 is said to contain around 1.5 kilometers of electrical wiring, the Model Y's new flex circuits could reduce that to just 100 meters, according to a report last year from Autocar UK.
CelLink expects that its technology will scale well-beyond the company's initial markets. The company said it received strong interest in adapting its technology for use in aerospace and commercial vehicles.
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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