Rapid 2019: Interview with Markforged’s Greg Mark On AI in 3D Printing

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Markforged started by bringing an innovative continuous composites technology to 3D printing. Rather than try to be all things to all men, the firm had a strong initial automotive focus before branching out. Then the company surprised everyone by releasing a metal 3D printer. Now with successive investment rounds, over 100 metal systems sold and new closed-loop technologies focussing on manufacturers the firm looks set for success. Now the company is putting out entire lines of systems with an X3, X5 and X7 on the market. The company also makes a complete suite of products including a sintering and washing station as well as its Eiger software. However, its up against HP, GE, Desktop Metal and new entrants in a very competitive space. How will Markforged compete? What makes this firm special and how can it win? Also, why should you choose to work with them?

The Markforged systems can be ordered with washing/debinding and sintering stations from the firm.

 

 

At Rapid we sat down with the eminently bright Greg Mark, the founder of Markforged, to talk about the future of his firm.

What makes Markforged special?

We are a software company, that produces parts. We create fully integrated systems consisting of software and materials. To make a production system, that is a combined system that can produce parts requires a different approach. For us to “end to end” ensure that our customers can make the right part we have to take into account all of the factors that influence the making of a part. The physics, the engineering, the code, your STL they all influence the properties of your final part. In order to account for those influences, we have to be systems people who design systems. Our people is, of course, the most special thing about us. We’ve managed to find a group of very enthusiastic, talented and intelligent people who are passionate about 3D printing. Together they make up Markforged. We are always looking for people who love 3D printing, who are systems people. Systems people that want to develop integrated systems that manufacture.  There are a lot of companies making 3D printers, few make manufacturing systems. From the very beginning, software was an integral part of our manufacturing solution and with Blacksmith, the importance of software has only grown.

We also do things that no one else has done before. We were the first to 3D print continuous carbon fiber for example. We let you make high strength polymer parts through a low cost material extrusion process.  Not only can you 3D print strong parts on the desktop we are letting you do this while fundamentally lowering the cost structure of these parts. 

 

The X7 is an industrial polymer system for continuous fiber

What is adaptive manufacturing? 

Up and until now machines go through the motion of making parts with no idea of what they’re making. Spindles move, toolheads cut but they have no awareness. They have no idea where they are and what they’re doing. Literally, they’re going through the motions. Machines will keep on running even if empty or cutting up air.

Now with Blacksmith we’re uniting your inspection equipment with the machine itself. Now for the first time, a machine can know what it is doing at any moment. What’s more, it can connect to an AI and learn about manufacturing. Our machine learning software is letting the machine rewrite its own code. The machine can now improve itself. This will improve reliability and repeatability for manufacturing. The machine can now learn “How do offsets work?” for example. 

What will Blacksmith do for manufacturers?

Blacksmith lets manufacturers create dependable parts the first time, every time. Now we’re closing the loop by integrating part scanning, printer hardware, and software. This means that you’ll know that you have the right material, in the right places, and the right shape at the right moment. This improves part outcomes and locks in repeatability when you go into production. Blacksmith compares a design to a 3D scanned part and then adapts the process to create in spec parts.

With Blacksmith we’ve made an autopilot for manufacturing. Rather than waste material and time we cut waste and accelerate time to market. This is not just a 3D printing solution we aim to connect your entire factory to Blacksmith.

So it’s a learning algorithm? 

It is a learning algorithm that encompasses all of the relevant data that you need to make an in-spec part. The same way that we train application engineer, we train the AI. For many of our customers’ lack of qualified 3D Printing staff reduces their adoption speed. They have Mary and she understands 3D printing but she will be the only one in the organization. With Blacksmith part of the knowledge that used to only be in Mary’s head will now be in the cloud, accessible to your machines. 

The steep learning curve that people have had to go through to really use 3D printing for manufacturing is now reduced. The machine, the factory is on autopilot. Through now being able to predict part outcomes and act accordingly Blacksmith lets companies adopt 3D printing at an accelerated rate. Staffing is now less of a bottleneck and the company can get to production quicker.

 

The Mark Two is a desktop system that can make continuous carbon fiber parts.

In binder jetting metals, the sintering step has always been problematic. How are you trying to solve this? 

We’re letting the machine change its own code to make their own part. Blacksmith can now predict parts and defects. We don’t use a linear scale factor. Blacksmith intelligently alters the part to get the outcome that you need. In this way, we can have a system that will continuously learn and improve to get the optimal output for manufacturing. 

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