So far, this year has been all about metal 3D printing. The process, typically slow and expensive, is finally starting to get some real interest from businesses who are discovering the limitless complexity offered by 3D printing is more important than speed. Companies are already using metal 3D printing to create advanced engine parts for automobiles, airplanes, medical implants and even rocket engines. But the cost of metal 3D printers and the relatively slow fabrication time is still a hurdle to wider adoption and the search is on for a company that can 3D print metal parts faster and cheaper.
Stratasys and several venture capitalists think that they have found a startup worth investing in, despite only being two months old and with a complete lack of a working prototype. Desktop Metal must have one heck of an idea, but I’m sure that the former MIT materials science and engineering professors working for the company helped. The startup also includes former successful lithium-ion battery company A123 Systems employees, former SolidWorks engineers and a former vice president from robotics company Kiva Systems, which was acquired by Amazon in 2012 for almost $800 million.
Desktop Metal Co-Founder and CEO Ric Fulop says that their $14 million first round funding includes tech VC firms like NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, and Lux Capital. Other investors include Boston hardware investor and prototype shop Bolt, Founder Collective and Data Collective. And, of course, participation from 3D printing giant Stratasys, which has a valuable worldwide fabrication and distribution network that would be able to put any new industrial metal 3D printers onto the market quickly and relatively efficiently.
The goal, if you can’t tell by the company’s name, is to create low-cost and easy-to-use 3D printers that can produce metal parts faster and cheaper than any other currently used method. Fulop is cagey when asked about Desktop’s proposed technology specifics, but he did tell Xconomy that the metal 3D printing system would not employ lasers, but rather a completely different process.
“We’re trying to make a machine that you can buy, plug it in, and use it in your office. Metal 3D printing has been out of the reach of most companies because it’s very expensive and slow. We’re developing a system that’s very fast and more accessible,” says Fulop.
While smaller and cheaper metal 3D printers would obviously be a huge boon for large manufacturing industry and businesses, it would also offer an whole new range of smaller businesses access to advanced manufacturing technology that previously was unavailable to them. Current technology is prohibitively large, so space is always an issue. They also use dangerous and powerful lasers and suck up huge amounts of power to operate. Not to mention the cost of an average metal 3D printing system averaging well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And it isn’t just the manufacturing industry that would be changed. Possible medical applications would completely change the surgical implant market, small surgical centers and health clinics being able to print their own implants on-site rather than needing to order the parts from expensive metal 3D printing service bureaus would be huge. It would most likely make metal 3D printed implants the rule, not just the costly and relatively uncommon exception that it is today. And the 3D printing hobbyists community would completely change. Imagine what customized cars and customized personal electronics would like like with access to cheap metal 3D printing.
Currently Fulop says that they are far too early in the development process to have any specifics on price or a production and release timeline, but he is planning on growing the company quickly. Desktop Metal already has eleven employees, and the plan is to add up to twenty more within the next six months.
Discuss this recent capital raise in the Desktop Metal forum thread on 3DPB.com.