AMS Spring 2023

WeMatter Atmosphere Module Improves SLS 3D Printing

Inkbit

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WeMatter is a Swedish startup trying to make low-cost powder bed fusion (PBF) a reality. The company now has launched the Atmosphere module. This connects to their Gravity printer and regulates the air in the system better. The company states that this unit helps you improve part density, color and finish by reducing heat bleed in the printer as a result of keeping the humidity more constant. The Atmosphere also reduces discoloration in parts and increases the recycling rate. The firm also states that it “reduces the wear of the material that is not fused in the powder bed inside the build chamber” and can let you print more parts per build because it allows you to build with less space in between parts.

WeMatter CEO Robert Kniola noted:

“It is very fun to see, after several years of development, the results of our hard work and that the response from the market is so positive. Atmosphere will be another part of making our ecosystem scalable. Our customers will be able to modularly upgrade their equipment with the features that suit the company’s operations. Some manufacturers solve the climate aspect with complicated infrastructure, others solve it with a gas tube, which entails a great safety risk. We have a stand-alone system that is safe for the user from a work environment point of view. It will be a safer alternative than, for example, just connecting a nitrogen generator”

The company then states that the module is plug-and-play. The Atmosphere complements WeMatter’s vacuum cleaner, part powder removal, and printer combo to make a solution that the team say can work in the office along with its Deep Space software. This is quite the proposition for a low-cost system.

The really unique thing about WeMatter is that its PA 11 and PA 12 comes in cartridges. Powder is recycled in the machine pneumatically. When powder is used up completely, it is also put in these cartridges and sent back to WeMatter, where the company recycles the powder. The cartridge system seems a bit strange, but does remove a lot of the dust trouble that PBF inherently has. At the same time, it would be safer than having a system that is open to the air because the powder won’t explode. With 40-micron polymer parts, you should really wear masks all the time when using other systems. The materials are considered safe but we know that this is small enough to end up all over the inside of your head. So, if it works properly the Gravity machine should be a safer solution for people in the printer’s vicinity, as well.

At first glance, this seems a rather quixotic solution. Shipping back to WeMatter may make environmental sense though. If the company does something useful with the leftover material and disposes of it well (or turns it into FDM filament), then this could lure in environmentally-conscious customers. If the system does completely work dust free, however, then this would have marked advantages to systems that cannot do this. Safety and convenience would be vastly increased. Safety with powders such as GF PA, glass-filled materials, would be much higher, as well. Day-to-day, the system would also be significantly easier to live with. You wouldn’t have to dedicate a room to it.

All in all, I’m impressed with the ecosystem approach and just how far the team has gone to holistically look at PBF and how annoying it is. Looking holistically at the user experience and at the day-to-day really makes for good devices. Ultimaker, Formlabs, and Prusa are very different companies but all are successful and all in their own way are passionate at creating an optimal user experience for their customers. They all three initially found a particular distinctive user base which drove them to develop very differently.

WeMatter will still perhaps have to search a little to find the low-cost sintering user base. Low-cost sintering is on the rise, but it has precious few entrants and little adoption. But, as we could see with Formlabs finally announcing the availability of its Fuse 1 system, sintering is on the move. Will we see growth in the market? If these systems are safe and easy to use, then sintering companies will still have to find their markets.

For who is this? A small design firm? An office? A workshop? This is also still a bit up in the air. There isn’t hype among architects or engineers that every office must have one of these. There isn’t a crowd of doctors clamoring for desktop sintering systems. But, given the fact that PBF is solid as a technology, if the market can last and evolve, we know that it can find applications.

I love the idea of a software tie-in similar to WeMatter for rehabilitation doctors, for example. Braces and assistive devices made in your local physio clinic. I also love what inexpensive sintering could do for orthotics and orthotics practitioners. For these kinds of applications, there would need to be a full offering, however, made specifically for them. Until then, it’s up to WeMatter to build excitement around its growing ecosystem. As I’ve stated before, companies in this segment have not made the business case for owning a small sintering machine and this still needs to be done.

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