We’ve been following 3D printing startup Desktop Metal with interest since 2015, when the company began pulling in funding from venture capital firms as well as 3D printing companies as prominent as Stratasys, without so much as a prototype. The fact that so many major companies were willing to take a leap of faith for an unproven company was startling, but Desktop Metal’s ideas combined with its team’s credentials have spoken strongly for it. After collecting additional millions of dollars in investments up until just a couple of months ago, Desktop Metal has finally announced the release of two products: the Desktop Metal Studio System and the Desktop Metal Production System.
The Desktop Metal Studio System is, according to the company, the first office-friendly metal 3D printing system. It features a new, proprietary 3D printing process called Bound Metal Deposition (BMD), a powder-free, FDM-like technology that works by extruding rods of bound metal. The parts are then sintered in a furnace that combines SiC heating elements with high-powered microwaves. The furnace is cloud-connected, with temperature profiles that can be customized to every build and material to heat parts to just below their melting points, removing binders and fusing metal particles to leave strong parts without any residual stress.
BMD is much safer than powder-based metal 3D printing, not to mention easier – besides the printer, no additional equipment is needed, just an internet connection. Support structures can be removed by hand, which is unheard of in metal 3D printing so far, and materials can be easily changed thanks to swappable cartridges. Speaking of materials, the DM Studio System supports hundreds of different metal alloys, meaning that the same materials used to manufacture parts can also be used to prototype them.
The full DM Studio System, which includes the printer, furnace, debinder, and consumables, plus installation, training, software, warranty and maintenance, starts at $120,000 – 10 times cheaper than existing metal 3D printers, according to Desktop Metal. The compact system is optimized for the office, while boasting a build area of 300 x 200 x 200 mm, layer height of 50μm, and a print speed of 16 cubic centimeters per hour.
In addition, Desktop Metal is releasing the DM Production System, the first metal 3D printing system to be designed for mass production. Until now, mass production via 3D printing has been hindered mostly by two factors: cost and time. The DM Production System, which is driven by a new proprietary technology called Single Pass Jetting (SPJ), does away with both of those limitations, 3D printing parts 100 times faster than laser-based 3D printing systems.
Single Pass Jetting combines two powder spreaders and one print unit, to both spread metal powder and print in a single pass with no wasted motion. A single pass starts in the powder spreader, where a metering system deposits metal powder and a compacting system forms a layer as thin as 50 microns. The print bar follows the powder spreader, jetting a binding agent over the powder in millions of droplets per second to form high-resolution parts one layer at a time. Anti-sintering agents are then deposited, allowing the supports to easily fall off after the part is completed.
All of that happens in one pass, with the mechanism moving in both directions, making it possible to 3D print parts in minutes instead of hours. Once the part is completed, it’s sintered in the microwave-enhanced furnace.
“Until now, metal 3D printing has failed to meet today’s manufacturing needs due to high costs, slow processes and hazardous materials,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and Co-founder of Desktop Metal. “With a team of some of the world’s leading experts in materials science, engineering and innovation, Desktop Metal has eliminated these barriers by developing metal 3D printing systems that can safely produce complex, strong metal parts at scale.”
The DM Production System has a build area of 330 x 330 x 330 mm and can print at an incredible 8,200 cubic centimeters per hour. You can reserve a system in May for a $5,000 deposit, with shipment in 2018. Reservations are also being taken for the DM Studio System in May for a $1,000 deposit, to be shipped beginning in September of this year.
“The rapid pace of innovation in technology is enabling OEMs to design, produce and deliver their products differently. I see a huge potential for the highly competitive automotive industry to accelerate product development and production,” said Uwe Higgen, Managing Partner of BMW i Ventures, an investor in Desktop Metal. “Desktop Metal’s technology offers a new way for the manufacturing industry to be smarter, faster and more cost effective with metal 3D printing. Whether it’s rapid prototyping or output at scale, a solution for printing metal parts that is competitive to the traditional manufacturing processes is certain to change the face of automotive design and production.”
“Caterpillar’s Parts Network has twenty-one distribution centers around the world that hold hundreds of thousands of service parts to provide over 2,000 dealer locations with the parts needed to provide our customers with their expected uptime,” added Don Jones, Caterpillar Global Parts Strategy Manager. “By leveraging a portion of 3D printing for metal parts, we will be able to enhance best in class service with lower inventory investment. We are excited to evaluate the Desktop Metal suite of products, which will allow us to print metal parts at high speed and minimal post processing and environmental constraints closer to our customers, reducing the need to expedite ship critical parts from across the globe.”
It’s not often that we see a new 3D printer or printing technology introduced that has the potential to change manufacturing as dramatically as the new Desktop Metal systems may. Suddenly, here are mass production capabilities in a metal 3D printing system – the implications for manufacturing have the potential to be staggering. Many manufacturers brag that their products are going to change the face of an industry, but Desktop Metal’s technology may actually do it.
What do you think of this new technology? Discuss in the Desktop Metal forum at 3DPB.com.