Why Solvay teamed up with startup MultiMechanics to help it ‘stop breaking things’
When the teams at Solvay Composite Materials looked for a way to simplify the testing of their products, not only did they find the perfect simulation tool to help them do that, they eventually went all in and invested in the company that created it! Now, Solvay and MultiMechanics work hand-in-hand to continue developing this sophisticated piece of software.
“We needed to stop making and breaking samples,” explains Rob Maskell, Chief Scientist at Solvay Composite Materials. This Global Business Unit (GBU) within Solvay develops materials that are used in high-performance and highly regulated areas such as aerospace. “When you provide a composite that’s going to become part of an airplane, you want to be able to test its performance and behaviors extensively, yet doing so in life size conditions is a long, complex and expensive process. Modeling was a capacity we needed to develop, and to do that, we needed to team up with people outside the company.”
That’s when they came across MultiMechanics, a Nebraska, USA-based startup company that had developed software to conduct computer-simulated tests to precisely predict the behavior of advanced materials, such as their resistance to extreme loads and temperatures, how and when they develop cracks, etc. “We started our relationship with MultiMechanics in 2015,” recounts Matthew Jackson, Senior Research Scientist at Composite Materials GBU. “We quickly saw this was a technology that could help us, but we wanted it to happen faster and get the tool where we wanted it to be as soon as possible.”
Growing fast and filling holes
So the idea of pushing the collaboration further started to emerge. That’s how MultiMechanics became one of the startups which Solvay Ventures invested in.
“From the beginning, our relationship was very synergetic,” says Flavio Souza, cofounder, President and CTO of MultiMechanics. “Our regular customer-supplier relationship went on for a while, and when we started collaborating on the product development based on feedback from the Composite Materials GBU, a direct investment became the natural next step. This allowed us to grow our team sevenfold in four months, which boosted the speed at which we can address challenges faced by our customers and build new capabilities into our products and solutions.”
Solvay’s business unit currently uses MultiMechanics’ software in a series of projects, which results in adding new algorithms to it in order to address “holes in our research that require specific capabilities,” says Matthew. “We’ve had exciting early results, so we see this growing and going into every research project we do.”
The types of problems typically addressed are for example understanding and optimizing the long-term thermal behavior of composites used in the external structure of aircraft. These materials have to withstand – among many other things – extreme temperatures that range from the airplane being parked on the tarmac in the hot sun to flying in well below freezing temperatures. “MultiMechanics can tell us whether cracks will develop in the structure, and if so, how,” explains Matthew. “This process used to be based on trial and error. Now, thanks to this new type of collaboration, we can accelerate our turnaround time and reduce the time to market.”
The attractiveness of collaboration
This isn’t the first time Composite Materials has collaborated with organizations outside the company. They say that in many ways their work with MultiMechanics can be compared to their collaborations with universities, with whom Solvay funds academic research in exchange for a license on the technology that emerges from it.
But that’s a much longer-term process, and speed was a key factor here. “Technology roadmapping drove us to realize we just can’t do things alone fast enough and that open innovation was an attractive solution,” explains Rob. “Twenty years ago, we tended to do everything ourselves, but now collaboration is Composite Materials’ preferred methodology. The change happened when we started to reward collaboration in the way we manage our teams.”
And as cliché as it may sound, both partners agree this is indeed a win-win relationship. Solvay enjoys the quicker development of a crucial tool to accelerate its Research and Innovation, and MultiMechanics gets precious feedback to continue fine-tuning its software. “Thanks to our open collaboration with the Composite Materials GBU, we understand the demands from the industry better and can build new unique capabilities into our tools accordingly,” says Flavio.
Needless to say, things aren’t stopping anytime soon with this collaboration.
Solvay's businesses in composites and specialty polymers provide solutions for sustainable mobility, lightweighting, CO2 and energy efficiency.