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[Korean Startup Interview] C&TUYOUNG’s Cutting-Edge Slitting Technology: Innovating Carbon Fiber Industry

2024-07-08 8 min read


[Korean Startup Interview] C&TUYOUNG’s Cutting-Edge Slitting Technology: Innovating Carbon Fiber Industry

Reading Time: 8 minutes
  • funding Stage : Seed
  • Raising Amount : KRW 1 B
  • Desired Fundraising Timeframe : 3~4Q 2024

Almost everyone has heard of carbon fiber, a material known for its lightweight, durable, and tough properties. The phrase “four times lighter than steel but ten times stronger” aptly describes the advantages of carbon fiber. Despite attempts to introduce carbon fiber across various industries, its usage has been limited to high-cost equipment such as aircraft materials, defense industries, supercars, and premium sports equipment due to its expensive nature.

The density of carbon fiber is expressed by the number of filaments. Most companies that mass-produce carbon fiber currently produce 12K, which means the carbon fiber is bundled with 12,000 filaments. Ironically, the cost of carbon fiber is lowest at 12K and increases significantly as the filament density decreases to 6K, 3K, and 1K. For example, while the production cost of 12K carbon fiber is around 35,000 KRW, producing the same amount with 1K carbon fiber would cost 120,000 KRW, making it four times more expensive. Why is that? Producing low-density carbon fibers like 1K and 3K requires developing new processes, which is costly.

So, why not simply buy 12K carbon fiber and cut it into 1K or 3K filaments? While this sounds feasible, it’s not as easy as it seems. The width of 12K carbon fiber is very small, and the filaments are intertwined like non-woven fabric, making it difficult to cut. The company C&TUYOUNG, which we are introducing today, has developed a proprietary slitting technology to divide 12K carbon fiber into 6K, 3K, or other desired levels, significantly reducing costs and supplying them to companies in need.

As mentioned earlier, slitting carbon fiber is not an easy task. The width of 12K carbon fiber is only 7mm, and within that, 12,000 carbon filaments are intertwined. Although one might think that it could be cut with a precise cutter, it’s not that simple. The 12,000 filaments are layered and bonded together, making it difficult to cut. Imagine trying to cut a 7mm wide piece of non-woven fabric with a cutter knife; it gives you an idea of the challenge.

Cutting carbon fiber requires not just simple slitting, but considerable pre- and post-treatment technologies such as spreading and resin treatment. Companies that produce 12K carbon fiber, like Hyosung in Korea and Toray in Japan, add resins like epoxy or polyethylene (PE) to the final product to prevent the fibers from scattering. To precisely slit such carbon fibers, the resin must first be removed, the fiber spread to a wider width, slit to the desired level, and then returned to its original carbon fiber form. C&TUYOUNG has developed a technology that can perform all these processes in one line. This is C&TUYOUNG’s core technology.

If C&TUYOUNG succeeds in slitting low-cost 12K carbon fiber into 3K or 6K as desired by customers, it will be great news for companies looking to use carbon fiber in various products, and the applications of carbon fiber will expand dramatically. C&TUYOUNG is already preparing for such outcomes in collaboration with global companies domestically and internationally.

Currently, C&TUYOUNG is applying its slitting technology for the first time to replace existing metal materials with carbon fiber for “shielding cables” used in electric vehicles, robots, and aircraft. As industries using electricity grow, reducing malfunctions in electrical and electronic products has become crucial. Especially in industries like electric vehicles, robots, aircraft, and drones, the demand for shielding cables is increasing due to the potential for malfunctions and accidents caused by electromagnetic interference. Replacing the metal material of these cables with carbon fiber will make them lighter, more durable, and more attractive to many companies.

Additionally, C&TUYOUNG is preparing to enter the carbon fiber prepreg industry. This involves manufacturing carbon fiber in large quantities, similar to textile fabrics, and supplying them to demand companies. The global shift to using lightweight carbon fiber for wind turbine blades is underway, and C&TUYOUNG aims to supply prepreg with significantly reduced costs through its slitting technology.

C&TUYOUNG’s CEO, Lim Soo-young, who completed a doctoral program in nano carbon fiber material engineering and has about six years of experience in the field, leads the company. Originally a chemical company built by CEO Lim’s father, C&TUYOUNG is pivoting to the new direction of “carbon fiber slitting” under his leadership. Despite already achieving annual sales of about 2 billion KRW and a net profit of 100 to 200 million KRW, CEO Lim is boldly challenging the unfamiliar task of “one-process carbon fiber slitting.” His pursuit of this goal brings to mind the “innovators with beastly instincts” described by Austrian economist Schumpeter, and the future of C&TUYOUNG under CEO Lim’s leadership is intriguing.

What problem is C&TUYOUNG addressing?

Due to its strength and lightweight, carbon fiber is highly regarded as a material for lightweight applications and is essential in industries that require durability. However, its high cost poses significant barriers to market entry. The global carbon fiber market is about $3.6 billion and growing at a rate of approximately 9% per year.

Yet, most of the carbon fiber market is limited to industries like aviation, defense, supercars, and sports equipment that are not price-sensitive. The high cost of carbon fiber restricts its use in various industries. If prices were lower, it would be used more widely.

For instance, in the automotive industry, carbon fiber is an ideal material that meets the requirements for lightness and durability, but its high cost has slowed market growth. C&TUYOUNG addresses this issue by supplying carbon fiber at reduced costs through its slitting technology.

How does C&TUYOUNG solve this problem?

Our technology involves the slitting of manufactured carbon fiber into finer strands. Currently, 12K carbon fiber costs around 35,000 KRW, while 1K carbon fiber costs around 120,000 KRW. In theory, slitting 12K carbon fiber into 12 strands of 1K each should cost about 3,000 KRW.

The high cost of 1K carbon fiber stems from production challenges and the difficulty of slitting. We have designed and established a slitting process using our proprietary technology.

The reason existing carbon fiber manufacturers struggle with slitting technology is that carbon fiber is not a unidirectional fiber. It requires various technologies, not just simple cutting. Precise tension control, resin and additive blending ratios, fiber alignment for spreading, and heat treatment processes are all necessary to enable slitting. We have secured these unique and innovative technologies.

What are C&TUYOUNG’s competitive advantages and technological strengths compared to competitors?

The carbon fiber market has diverse demands due to its application in various product categories. We can adjust the width of the fiber through slitting, select resins and blending ratios for desired properties, and meet all customer requirements.

For example, our carbon fiber shielding cables offer higher flexibility and lighter weight compared to metal-braided cables. Through slitting, we provide cost-effective alternatives to metal, adjust materials and widths for different cable applications, and apply resins for specific properties like high heat resistance or high strength. This results in superior performance at lower costs compared to metal.

What products does C&TUYOUNG provide, and what is their current status?

Our most rapidly advancing product is the “carbon fiber shielding cable using slitting technology.” The next-generation mobility industry, as well as AI, robotics, and automotive industries, require various signal and power cables. As the number of cables inside devices increases, so does the occurrence of noise, leading to electromagnetic interference and malfunctions. Electromagnetic shielding is therefore essential in modern industries.

As autonomous drones, vehicles, wearable robots, and other such industries develop, the importance of electromagnetic shielding grows. To address this, we are developing carbon composite shielding cables to replace traditional metal shielding, offering lighter, more flexible, and more durable solutions.

The development of shielding cables is complete, and we are in the stage of mass production and automation for commercialization. We are collaborating with domestic companies like L Cable and D Cable for field tests on building communication lines and are working with Germany’s L Group to obtain VDE certification for signal cables by the end of the year. Obtaining VDE certification will enable stable sales, targeting various industries globally.

What is the target market size, and who are C&TUYOUNG’s key target customers?

The global carbon fiber market is expected to reach about $3.6 billion this year, growing at a rate of approximately 9% per year. However, most of this market growth is in price-insensitive industries like aerospace and defense, while other industries face significant barriers due to high costs.

The automotive industry, for example, views carbon fiber as the ideal advanced material for lightweight and durable applications, but high raw material costs have hindered market growth. Hyundai and Kia Motors have stated that raw material costs need to be reduced to about one-fifth to enable mass production of carbon fiber in vehicle interiors and exteriors. If cost reductions through our slitting technology are realized, the mobility industry will experience explosive growth in carbon fiber applications.

Moreover, the shielding cable market is expected to grow by over 21% annually due to the development of autonomous driving systems, with the aerospace and industrial automation cable markets growing by 7% annually. This will form a global market of approximately $33 billion, with shielding materials accounting for about 20-30% of this market, or around $15 billion. We aim to capture 10% of the domestic market and 1% of the international market by 2028.

What is C&TUYOUNG’s business model?

Our “Slitting Carbon Fiber (SCF)” provides comprehensive solutions to various customer requirements. By adjusting fiber widths and adding resins and additives, we can offer a range of products with different properties. This enables us to cater to a diverse range of industries, maintaining technological and cost competitiveness even as competitors enter the market.

What are C&TUYOUNG’s achievements and current status?

Our team of researchers has established reliability through ongoing research and process design, developing robotic cables in collaboration with global companies. We are also preparing to export our technology products internationally. We are developing high-strength and flexible shielding cables for the next-generation aviation and mobility industries, aiming to domestically produce and commercialize currently imported aviation cables.

What is C&TUYOUNG’s competitive edge?

Our team, composed of carbon fiber experts with over 10 years of experience in the field, covers the entire process from product planning to production process design, prototype production, and performance evaluation. We are the only company in Korea that has self-designed lines capable of spreading, impregnating, and slitting carbon fiber.

We emphasize detailed division of labor and leverage each researcher’s strengths to ensure high-quality outcomes. Our team’s confidence and expertise guarantee superior product quality from R&D to commercialization and investment.

Three reasons to invest in C&TUYOUNG:

We are already generating revenue by meeting customer demands and need additional facilities and mass production equipment to scale up. With upcoming certifications and tests, we expect positive outcomes.

Our technology allows us to develop various models for different industries, offering affordable prepregs through mass-produced slitting carbon fiber, enabling quick commercialization.

We possess comprehensive technology for the carbon fiber industry, from spreading to impregnation and slitting, with a unique one-time production process exclusive to our company.

[Korean Startup Interview]

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