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[Korean Startup Interview] Omnicoat’s Dry Laser Printing Revolutionizes Color-Coated Steel and Battery Electrode Technology

2024-07-08 7 min read

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[Korean Startup Interview] Omnicoat’s Dry Laser Printing Revolutionizes Color-Coated Steel and Battery Electrode Technology

Reading Time: 7 minutes

When people think of color-coated steel sheets, they typically imagine solid-colored sheets used for things like warehouse roofs or commercial spaces, often in simple hues like blue or orange. Finding aesthetically pleasing and precisely detailed metal sheets is rare because coating intricate, multi-color images on metal surfaces is highly challenging. But what if these color-coated steel sheets could be produced with fine details on a large scale?

Imagine color-coated steel sheets being extensively used in both interior and exterior building materials, adding significant aesthetic and functional value to constructions. The combination of metal’s durability and artistic beauty would be highly appealing. Additionally, this would allow for the customized production of electrical and electronic products. While brands like Samsung and LG already offer home appliances in sleek colors, these are often limited to solid colors or simple patterns. The introduction of finely detailed color-coated steel sheets would enable the creation of customized electrical and electronic products that reflect individual personalities, driving significant demand.

Omnicoat, based in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, is a startup born from the question, “Why can’t we produce high-productivity metal sheets with intricate color designs?” CEO Park Soon-Hong, who holds a Ph.D. in Materials Science from POSTECH and has extensive experience at POSCO, founded Omnicoat through an in-house venture challenge.

The Challenge of Coating Intricate Color Images on Metal

The difficulty in coating intricate color images on metal surfaces stems from the nature of the metal itself. Traditional metal printing techniques involve applying liquid ink to the surface and adhering it through heat or chemical treatment, followed by drying. Unlike paper, which absorbs ink readily, metal surfaces do not, causing surface tension in the liquid ink and leading to clustering. Preventing this clustering and ensuring the ink adheres to the metal surface requires a large amount of binder in the ink, reducing printing precision and extending drying time. Continuous use of large amounts of binder can also clog the ink nozzles. Thus, traditional color-coated steel sheets are often limited to solid colors or repeated patterns with less detail.

Omnicoat’s Innovative Solution

Park Soon-Hong’s innovative idea was to replace liquid ink with solid powder toner, using static electricity to adhere it to the metal surface and then fixing it with heat through a laser printing method. This led to the development of the “Color-coated steel sheet manufacturing process using dry laser printing technology.” Recognizing the technological advancements, POSCO’s subsidiary, POSCO Steelion (formerly POSCO Steel Plate), provided a 200-pyeong space to support the mass production of color-coated steel sheets.

Omnicoat’s innovation doesn’t stop at color-coated steel sheets. In the production of secondary battery electrodes, aluminum foil (for the cathode) and copper foil (for the anode) are coated with materials like nickel, cobalt, manganese, phosphate, and graphite using liquid binders. Similar to color-coated steel sheets, the large amount of liquid binder and lengthy drying time reduce productivity and precision. Omnicoat is addressing this issue with its “solid powder toner dry process.” By adopting laser/LED printing technology for electrode material coating, they aim to significantly reduce the volume occupied by liquid binders and shorten production time. Omnicoat is already undergoing a Proof of Concept (PoC) stage with a major secondary battery manufacturer.

Expanding the Market with Innovative Technologies

CEO Park Soon-Hong aims to revolutionize various industries such as construction, secondary batteries, electronics, plastics, glass, and automotive interior and exterior materials with their new “laser/LED dry toner printing process.” Whether Omnicoat and CEO Park Soon-Hong will succeed in pioneering this new realm remains to be seen, but their spirit of innovation and challenge is undeniable.

Addressing the Core Problem

Omnicoat started with the goal of printing detailed colors on steel sheets. Existing color-coated steel sheets are produced using wet processes such as paint application or inkjet printing. Similarly, in the production of electrodes for electric vehicles, wet processes are used to apply nickel-cobalt-manganese (NCM) and graphite-silicon to the cathode and anode. The market for custom color image building materials is expanding rapidly, as is the market for functional metal materials, including secondary battery cathodes and anodes. However, these markets are still dominated by wet processes, which involve large amounts of chemicals, low productivity, and environmental issues. Omnicoat has developed innovative technology to replace these wet processes with dry digital printing processes, commonly known as laser printing, for steel sheets and secondary battery materials.

How Omnicoat Solves This Problem

Omnicoat uses solid powder instead of liquid in their coating-printing processes for steel sheets and secondary battery electrodes. This is similar to the evolution from inkjet printing, which uses liquid ink to print on paper or various media, to laser printing, which uses electrostatics and powder to create images. Omnicoat adopted this dry printing technology to develop their “laser printing dry process.” This technology uses electrostatics and toner to freely and precisely create images or circuits on surfaces like metal, glass, and plastic. They are expanding the application of this dry digital printing technology to building materials, secondary battery electrodes, and smart glass for mobility.

Omnicoat’s Competitive Edge

Using electrostatics and solid powder toner to create images on metal surfaces is a world-first technology. Most of Omnicoat’s competitors use liquid paint for printing, but this method is highly dependent on the surface condition of the media, making it difficult to achieve fine details due to surface tension. Additionally, large amounts of liquid binder are required to adhere the paint to metal or glass surfaces, which necessitates a drying stage.

In the secondary battery industry, wet coating is used in electrode manufacturing processes. However, using large amounts of liquid binder to attach nickel, cobalt, manganese, iron, and graphite to the electrodes results in low productivity and poor precision due to lengthy drying times. Therefore, transitioning from wet to dry coating processes is crucial. Omnicoat has developed dry coating technology for secondary batteries using electrostatics and their unique powder toner.

Omnicoat’s technology not only enables detailed expression on color-coated steel sheets but also improves the resolution of secondary battery electrodes. Additionally, it eliminates the need for surface drying processes, providing a competitive edge in various industries.

Omnicoat’s Product Range

Omnicoat’s products are categorized by material and function.

Materials: Products are divided into metal and glass substrates. By implementing color images on metal and glass surfaces that can control electrostatics, Omnicoat has launched products for interior and exterior building materials. They can freely express and process images or colors on metal or glass surfaces as per customer needs, offering unique architectural spaces or functional building materials. Omnicoat’s color image technology can be applied to metal doors and glass windows in apartments and commercial spaces, as well as custom-designed color images for metal components in Samsung Electronics’ Bespoke refrigerators.

By June 2024, Omnicoat will establish a pilot mass production system, allowing them to respond to customer demands for metal and glass substrates of up to 60 cm in width and 2 m in length. They supply high-end metal tile interior materials, color image speaker materials, and color image flooring materials to customers.

For secondary battery electrode materials, they aim for PoC production by August 2024, innovating materials like NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) and LFP (lithium iron phosphate) for cathodes, and graphite and graphite-silicon for anodes into more uniform powder forms through laser printing dry processes.

Functions: Products are categorized into electrical conductivity, antibacterial properties, aesthetics, and other custom printing features as per customer requirements.

Market Size and Target Customers

The domestic market for color image steel sheets, which allow for individual expression, is approximately KRW 460 billion annually. The market for personalized building interior and exterior materials and home appliances is steadily growing. The market for customized home appliances with various colors or functional surfaces like electrical conductivity and antibacterial properties is rapidly expanding due to diverse customer demands.

Omnicoat is initially targeting the construction material market and then expanding to metal and glass materials for home appliances. They also plan to enter the future secondary battery electrode market and mobility electric conductive electrode coating market through technological development.

Omnicoat’s Business Model

Omnicoat’s technology revolves around system engineering and powder toner. Responding to customer requirements for images or functions necessitates digital printing systems and solid powder toner manufacturing technology. Omnicoat has secured core digital printing system engineering technology and internalized functional toner manufacturing technology. They plan to supply stable dry digital printing engineering technology and continuously provide toner as their business model.

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Omnicoat’s Achievements

Omnicoat, a technology-based company, secured investment from Daedeok Venture Partners within 10 months of establishment and is currently undertaking a TIPS project. The company has been selected for the Materials and Components Technology Startup 100, focusing on future technology development using materials and equipment.

Furthermore, through a technology development MOU with POSCO Steelion, they are commercializing color image digital printing technology on metal surfaces. Additionally, they are conducting PoC for dry digital printing electrodes with secondary battery electrode demand companies.

All core and applied technologies have been filed for domestic and international patents since 2023. They aim to secure global competitiveness by obtaining patents related to core materials in secondary battery systems.

Omnicoat’s Team Strengths

Omnicoat, led by CEO Park Soon-Hong, who researched metal surface treatment at POSCO’s technology research institute for five years, is composed of specialized researchers in paint and toner. Their expertise and experience in toner technology development and system engineering drive their top-notch technological development.

Additionally, leveraging their core technology of dry toner and electrostatics, Omnicoat actively pursues new applications and ideas, constantly exploring new markets, which is their key strength.

Three Reasons Why We Need Investment!

Firstly, it’s an ideal time to seize the market using our pioneering dry digital printing technology. Unlike conventional wet coating methods, our new dry printing approach introduces fresh technologies to sectors like construction materials, secondary batteries, and mobility. With investment in technology development and commercialization, we can potentially lead in these markets.

Secondly, through our semi-mass production system scheduled for completion in June 2024, we are already delivering products and services to customers, achieving profitability. Omnicoat enters the market with superior technology and competitive pricing compared to existing competitors. We forecast revenues of 1.5 billion KRW this year and expect over 5 billion KRW by 2026 as production scales up.

Thirdly, Omnicoat is advancing beyond current technologies by exploring new frontiers. By entering emerging markets such as secondary battery electrodes and mobility glass, we aim to establish a leading position. With our expertise in digital printing system development, we have the potential to swiftly access materials for secondary batteries and mobility, positioning ourselves as a technology-driven startup.

[Korean Startup Interview]


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