Metal 3D printing: is this the future? The technology, in many different versions, will have a definite place in the future of manufacturing, and it’s up to the innovators behind the technologies to determine just how soon that future realistically is. When I walked up to the Markforged booth at RAPID + TCT, I was immediately greeted with a small metal part, threaded to tight tolerances and perfectly functional. It had been made on the Metal X 3D printer, one of which was printing just feet away at the booth as the Massachusetts-based company continues to highlight the product, introduced early this year and gearing up to ship this autumn. RAPID marked the third time I’ve seen the Metal X in action, following its showings at CES and SOLIDWORKS World, and the parts coming off the machine are increasingly showing the capabilities of metal 3D printing at the desktop (not to be confused, mind you, with Desktop Metal).
RAPID meant it was time to catch up again with Markforged, and I met with CEO Greg Mark as well as VP of Marketing Cynthia Gumbert and the team. As I toyed with the threaded metal part, we touched on Mark’s theories of parallelization, which we had discussed early this month. Parallelization, he maintains, is the “way to the future.” As we were at a large and busy tradeshow, comparisons in business are inevitable, and Mark pointed to industry giant Stratasys as a point of comparison, noting that the future of production is in focus for both companies as they are looking toward cloud-controlled systems, redundancy, and server-based print jobs.
“The more people acknowledge the future, the better,” Mark told me. “People know about it, people get that, even not in 3D printing.”
The industry, Mark said, has been using the wrong figure of merit in discussing 3D printing for production; what should be explored is cubic centimeter per hour per dollar; “print speed is the way to win parallelism,” he explained. “This is what we should be talking about.”
“Prototyping is making one thing as fast as possible. Production is merit. The vision is not to build a bigger, faster, more expensive printer. We are scaling up with our material library through use of parallelization. This offers more options, some with different nozzles or materials,” he said. “With load balancing, we’re looking at really flexible production equipment. That all takes forever to change in traditional manufacturing or in other machines.”
At RAPID, Markforged officially announced a new partnership with fellow Massachusetts-based company Methods 3D, which was present at the show in a large, robot-filled booth appropriate for the US’ biggest importer of CNC equipment. Enthusiastic as ever about a well-vetted new partner, Mark noted that Methods 3D is “totally awesome.”
“System integration is the number one thing for customers. They do the entire thing in a turnkey system,” he said of the new partner. “We always look for value-added resellers to make sure they are moving their business forward, and have a good return on investment for their business.”
As Markforged is careful in the selection of partners, but enthusiastic about working with best fit companies, it’s no surprise that the company has announced another new agreement, working with California-based Superior 3D Solutions. The agreement, announced today, adds the Metal X to the lineup of Markforged 3D printers Superior 3D Solutions sells and provides service for, including the Onyx series, Mark Two, and Mark X. Unique for a reseller, Superior 3D Solutions is devoted exclusively to Markforged technologies, having tested 20 different 3D printers ahead of the decision to dedicate resources to this line; the expansion to metal technologies represents an exciting proposition.
“The level of strength the Markforged system is able to produce is amazing. Adding metals to the line-up puts Markforged at the front of the pack in the 3D printing industry. We are very fortunate to team up with Markforged and excited to demonstrate the game-changing capabilities this technology has to help advance design, engineering and manufacturing,” said Superior 3D Solutions President Shayne Denston.
Superior 3D Solutions notes that it is “one of the nation’s leading suppliers of Markforged 3D Printers” now, and extends its services to a series of weekly lunch and learn events, as well as on-site demonstrations. The team behind the company have a combined 33 years of 3D printing industry experience and are dedicated to long-term relationships with customers — and, clearly, with Markforged.
“Superior 3D Solutions has a deep knowledge of the 3D printing industry, enabling them to provide critical insights to their customers. They have a strong track record of helping companies in many different industries receive the maximum value from their Markforged printers,” said Matt Katzman, Director of Worldwide Sales, Markforged.
As Markforged continues to forge ahead with new and existing partners to expand the reach of their high-strength 3D printing offerings, used in applications from prosthetics to plastic rocket motors, we’re sure to continue to hear more from them. The dynamic team at Markforged show an unparalleled dedication and drive, sharing in their CEO’s vision toward a parallelism-driven future in which 3D printing will take its place as an understood, value-added manufacturing technology.
Share your thoughts in the Markforged forum at 3DPB.com.[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]
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