Massachusetts-based Markforged has been focused on strength in 3D printing, and one of those strengths — materials aside — is the positioning that additive manufacturing offers for local manufacturing. The company, led by Founder and CEO Greg Mark, is keen to see 3D printing take its place in production. While earlier this year Mark laid out his plan for parallelization in production as key to advancing metal additive manufacturing, having introduced the Metal X 3D printer in January and receiving a warm welcome for the desktop machine, the future isn’t only metal. Keen to offer more options for local manufacturing, today Markforged is announcing two new industrial 3D printers.

The Mark X 3D printer was introduced in October 2016, created with power in mind. The machine has seen new features introduced since, and today it meets its biggest update yet: a new name, and an extension of its product family. The Mark X, still to be the company’s flagship Continuous Carbon Fiber (CCF) industrial 3D printer platform, will now be known as the X7, and is joined by its new siblings, the X3 and the X5, offering more points of engagement for manufacturers.

[Image: Markforged]

Industrial-strength 3D printing, says the company, is now financially attainable for every manufacturing business, as the three models in the industrial 3D printer line are differentiated by price point, with capabilities building up between models. According to the company:

  • The X3 prints strictly engineering-grade thermoplastic fiber parts, and is powered by the material strength and stiffness of Onyx, the company’s high-temperature-capable carbon fiber-filled nylon.
    • Priced at $36,990
  • The X5, intended to be the workhorse of the industrial line, adds the ability to reinforce an Onyx part with a strand of continuous fiberglass, said to make it 19X stronger and 10X stiffer than traditional plastics.
    • Priced at $49,900
  • The X7 is the flagship model here, the 3D printer formerly known only as the Mark X; it can create parts 23X stronger than those made with ABS, and is said to be the only sub-$1-million machine offering in-part laser inspection.
    • Priced at $69,000

All three machines offer a build volume of 300 x 270 x 200 mm and resolution of 50 μm.

Markforged additionally offers the opportunity for its customers to future-proof their purchases, in the form of an upgrade program that allows for a move from an initial investment — say in an X3 — up to a higher-cost, higher-performing machine — an X5 or X7. With different points of investment, Markforged is aiming to enhance accessibility for manufacturers.

“For 30 years, 3D printing customers have been forced to accept trade-offs between strength, time, and affordability — lacking the opportunity to benefit from all three. With the complete Industrial Series and new Metal X printer, these trade-offs no longer exist. Customers can now, with ease, print same-day parts that optimize strength and affordability for their specific needs,” Greg Mark said of today’s announcement.

Greg Mark at RAPID + TCT 2017 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

I talked to Greg Mark this morning to gain his perspective on what his company is hoping for with the expansion of their industrial 3D printer line. Markforged has been watching its Net Promoter Score as part of its efforts to keep tabs on customer feedback and it all, Mark underscored, comes down to whether or not someone would recommend a product to a friend. Scores can go from -100 up to 100, and Mark noted that the X has been holding steady with “an 85 score, which is ridiculous”; each 3D printer from Markforged has seen a higher rating than its predecessors. That high mark for the Mark X highlights the company’s work to integrate customer feedback, providing in its products what people actually want to see. And a big part of what people wanted to see when it came to the Mark X was, in fact, more of it.

“People love it,” Mark told me of the X. “It makes beautiful end-use parts with a great surface finish, parts that are 23X stronger — but it’s $70K. There was a company that bought one and really quickly put 1100 hours on it; they called two other divisions and told them to buy it. That $70K is super affordable for a Fortune 50 company, and helps them get where they’re going — but that’s not everybody. So now the X is the X7, we took the 7 and cut it in half and that’s the 3.”

About one-third of the company’s customers do invest in a second machine after having bought a first one, Mark has explained, but the focus with the industrial line expansion is in enhancing its positioning as being more accessible to more companies in the first place. The X3 still has “all sorts of automation built in at half the price,” Mark told me, noting that Onyx is the highest-temperature plastic available at its price point, already offering customers access to stronger, higher-temperature capabilities than traditional manufacturing methods.

“And here’s the key: we always make our printers upgradable. If you can’t start at $70K, start here,” he told me. “Then when you see it needs to be stronger, you can upgrade to X5 or X7; you’re never stuck with one piece of hardware and wishing you’d gone for the other one.”

Carbon fiber 3D printed Ducati part showcased at SOLIDWORKS World 2017 [Photo: Sarah Goehrke]

Behind the upgradability of their printers lie two key inspirations, as Mark laid out:

  1. As people start getting more business, their needs go up. They might not need the highest power right at the start.
  2. There’s a big learning curve for 3D printing; a lot of designers are still new to it, and as they become more comfortable they want to do more with it.

Mark doesn’t want anyone to feel saddled with a machine and unwilling or unable to invest in better hardware as their needs and their business grow, and Markforged uses this as the basis for its program.

“We don’t want to get stuck with a piece of hardware that you’re wishing had all the features you wish you had,” he explained. “This takes a lot of the anxiety away from making a $37,000 purchase. You know you want the strength, the material, but you don’t know if you want to spend $70K yet, and maybe want to spend $30K or $50K, this offering makes it more accessible.”

The new machines are already seeing demonstrated demand from existing customers, showcasing their place as not just starter units but also high-performing machines on their own merit that have their place in a manufacturing environment.

“We’ve had a bunch of customers ask for the X3, from multiple customers who love the printer, and want to get a lower-priced version. They print some with carbon fiber, some without, and as they start building out their desktop fleet, they need more options. When your suite gets big enough you start customizing the printers,” Mark said.

“It’s all about how many parts can you print per dollar of machine cost. People want the lowest-cost printer that can do what they need.”

[Image: Markforged]

As the company values its relationships with its resellers and customers, one of the first new 3D printers will go to long-time Markforged customer Dixon Valve, which is looking forward to the opportunity to expand on its offerings.

“Our first Markforged printer paid itself off in less than 1.5 months and saved us over 81% versus machining. This is why we’re excited to be first in line to bring the capabilities of one of Markforged’s new industrial line printers in-house,” said Bill Hollingsworth, Vice President of Engineering at Dixon Valve.

Markforged is paying attention not just to what its customers want to see in their manufacturing processes, but in how those businesses operate. As 3D printing continues to be more widely adopted across a variety of verticals, various businesses operating on different budget schedules and with different seasonal needs come at the investment in new hardware in different ways.

“For companies with a more dedicated PO cycle, that have to budget per year, we have to make it easier for engineers who work in those environments to have access to 3D printing. Part of our job is helping engineers get the tools they need to do their job, in a way to explain it to who holds the money,” Mark told me.

Markforged remains focused on its mission to make 3D printing a stronger and less expensive option for manufacturing. You can learn more about the X3 and X5, along with the renamed X7, here, and more about materials options here.

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