In early 2019, Joris Peels spoke with Markforged CEO Greg Mark about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in 3D printing, and Mark said that software had always been “an integral part” of the company’s manufacturing solution. Several times he mentioned Blacksmith, a machine learning and AI-powered software developed by the metal and carbon fiber AM systems supplier that automatically adjusts programming to ensure accurate printing; essentially, the software makes manufacturing systems ‘aware’ of what they’re doing, which is really interesting. Now, the company has announced the immediate availability of its powerful Blacksmith software for Markforged X7 3D printers.
Founded in 2013 and based in Massachusetts, Markforged recently announced that it’s going public after a merger deal with blank-check special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) one (NYSE: AONE). After the deal closes, likely this summer, the combined company will keep the Markforged name and be listed on the NYSE as “MKFG.” As the company takes this leap forward, the release of Blacksmith for the company’s flagship X7 printer is also a pretty big step on the road to true autonomous manufacturing.
“We knew that it would only be possible to reinvent manufacturing with a software-first approach to building hardware. Blacksmith fundamentally changes the way engineers think about additive manufacturing,” said David Benhaim, Co-Founder and CTO of Markforged. “For the first time, they will have confidence that their parts will perform as expected without a time-consuming process. Blacksmith makes our platform smarter and is the next step on our roadmap to bring the agility of software to the world of manufacturing.”
In autonomous manufacturing, 3D printers should be able to self-adapt, accounting for and fixing any factors that could negatively affect a part so it prints precisely the first time, not the second or the fifth or the tenth, and so on. Blacksmith was designed to learn continuously from each print through AI and closed loop processing, connecting part design, production, and inspection to streamline the AM workflow, strengthen the supply chain, and provide users with accurate parts right off the print bed from anywhere in the world, across The Digital Forge.
Blacksmith uses in-process part inspection so that it’s actually aware of what it’s printing, which means that engineers and manufacturers should be more confident in what’s coming off the print bed. The intelligent software, which Markforged says is easy to use, should then be able to increase time to market and lower production costs.
“Markforged’s Blacksmith enables dimensional confirmation of additive parts straight off the print bed, giving engineers confidence that the parts are within spec prior to use. There is no need for secondary systems, additional equipment or separate databases for results – all of which help streamline workflows and get us to market faster,” explained Kelly Puckett, the senior engineering manager for additive manufacturing at Dana Incorporated. “Blacksmith also allows for comparative data when printing the same part in multiple locations around the world, critical for multinational organizations like Dana.”
So, how does it work? Blacksmith AI-powered software leverages the X7 printer’s integrated laser micrometer, along with a patented smart scanning process, to measure parts while they’re being produced. Then, the dimensional data is evaluated automatically against the design files, meaning that users can scan and print parts at the same time in order to double check that what they wanted to print is actually what they’ll get. Scanning a part while it’s being printed makes it possible for Blacksmith to inspect its inner structure, and vital features—a feat that could not be accomplished in one step post-print.
Starting now, Blacksmith by Markforged is available as a software subscription via all cloud-connected X7 3D printers. For simplified customer access, it’s provisioned through over-the-air updates, though you will need an OEM-certified reference bed calibration.
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