Digital Metal Discusses Huge Interest, Serial Manufacturing in Fine-Detailed Metal 3D Printing

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Sweden-based Digital Metal is proud to be small; after all, as the company tagline proclaims, “Small is the new big in additive manufacturing.” And as the old adage goes, “Good things come in small packages.” What Digital Metal is up to, though, is looking to be a pretty big deal for the industry.

During the recent RAPID + TCT, where metal was again a major draw, I appreciated the opportunity to not only catch up again with the team, but to see the first US appearance of the DM P2500, which hit the market in September. Following conversations at TCT Show and formnext, the message a few months on was a focus on growth as I spoke with Digital Metal Sales Manager Alexander Sakratidis.

“This is the first time the machine is here in the US; there is huge interest, many visitors have been happy to see us here,” Sakratidis told me in welcome.

The machine was, in fact, a big draw, and throughout our conversation many attendees stopped by to look inside the unique system. A binder jetting technology, Digital Metal’s process allows for fine detail in creation and reuse of powder as the build chamber is unheated and doesn’t expose materials to different gases or atmospheric conditions. The powder in place serves as support for the build, and unused material can be cleaned off simply before it gets reintegrated to the powder supply and the part progresses toward sintering to finish.

The proprietary process, developed by parent Höganäs AB, has been in use since 2013; Digital Metal produced more than 200,000 parts before commercializing its system last year. The demand for fine detailed metal 3D printed parts continues to push demand for Digital Metal’s offerings, and Sakratidis filled me in on some of the applications seeing great use. Digital Metal now has a dozen components in serial production; one of these components sees production of 30,000 units on a yearly basis.

Another, a detailed windshield washer nozzle for Swedish supercar manufacturer Koenigsegg Automotive AB, features internal performance-enhancing functions and a highly detailed external finish with the company’s logo. As a part on a €2 million supercar, the exact look and function are critical; high horizontal resolution and high strength allow for full functionality, visible detail, and performance in a demanding automotive environment. Also in serial production is a dial for watchmaker Montfort. The dials for the Swiss Alps-inspired watches are uniquely created with a crystalline, rock-like structure Montfort was looking for. Sakratidis was wearing his Montfort watch, allowing me a good look at the detailed piece. Serial production also comes into play for nozzles used in the dental industry.

Use cases aren’t all serial, of course; at the booth, Sakratidis showed me interesting builds including a threaded screw, tiny chess set (and incrementally tiny pieces), and moving parts made in one assembly with a delightul chain maille-style piece as well as a spinning branded part.

During formnext, I had also visited with the team to be 3D scanned, and received my metal 3D printed likeness in the form of a tiny bust earlier this year. While I’m not thrilled that that was the hair day to be immortalized, particularly as curly hair poses a scanning challenge anyway, the resolution on my metal mini-me is impressive (and several friends have suggested I now have my own Monopoly game token).

Digital Metal, Sakratidis reminded me, sees tolerances of ±50 microns, with dimensional tolerances of ±0.5%.

“The capabilities make this system good for applications that need high precision,” he told me.

High-precision applications are in demand, unsurprisingly, and Digital Metal is seeing inquiries rise accordingly. Not only is the demand for the systems and services expanding, but so is the company itself. As Digital Metal announced early this year, the company is growing significantly, hiring more employees, investing in new materials R&D, and increasing its footprint.

“Our Sweden facility has seen an increase of 50%, with a dedicated materials development area,” Sakratidis explained.

“We are recruiting a lot of people now to keep up with demand. We also have a lot of machines in production to keep up.”

That 50% expansion sees the production plant and office in Höganäs grow, including installation of a new vacuum extraction system and increased compression and cooling power, allowing for the doubling of sintering capacity. Also part of the expansion are a separate quality control room and an isolated space for materials that require special handling to be 3D printed.

Materials are coming into further focus for Digital Metal. Currently available materials, according to the company, include:

  • Stainless steel 316L (1.4404), according to MIM standard MPIF 35
  • Stainless steel 17-4PH (1.4542), according to MIM standard MPIF 35
  • Ti6Al4V according to MIM standard ISO 22068

“We have state-of-the-art equipment for materials development,” he continued, noting that more are now close to launch, including Inconel 1625 and nickel-based MAR 247.

These new materials will continue to drive interest in, and sales opportunity for, Digital Metal. Sakratidis underscored that the company offers not only machines, but services for its customers. In the course of working with customers, the team appreciates the opportunity to adapt to more projects and designs, adding new experiences to a growing wealth of knowledge and capabilities.

“There are challenging prints that customers want; we learn a lot in the process of doing it,” he said.

With all this growth, Digital Metal is experiencing an upsurge. Sales, Sakratidis told me, are increasing steadily, and the company is taking in “more and more requests for services.” Since launching commercially around the TCT Show, “interest has been very high.”

In ramping up with the demand, Digital Metal continues to add to its team; the company is actively recruiting in machine development, sales, and other areas.

Discuss Digital Metal, fine detail, and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke / Scan by Digital Metal]

 

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