Coming off the heels of its public listing, Markforged (Nasdaq: MKFG) has announced new product meant to speed up the widespread adoption of production 3D printing. Dubbed the Eiger Fleet, the cloud-based software solution is meant to establish a large, distributed, manufacturing fleet.
Markforged has been implementing steady upgrades to its Eiger software since it initially launched with the Mark One 3D printer in 2014. These have included methods for optimizing reinforced carbon fiber 3D printing, process control, and machine learning. Then, in 2020, it announced the Digital Forge, which involved the use of deep learning across all of its customers’ existing Markforged 3D printers such that every print job would inform the entire network. In turn, this would improve the quality of all future prints for every customer throughout the company’s user community.
Eiger Fleet is meant to integrate Markforged 3D printers into their existing workflows and enterprise software, while also automating business processes. This includes enterprise level features such as role-based access control, with the ability to manage which users are able to access which parts, builds, printers, and data. Single sign-on automates account provisioning and allows users and administrators to have a more fluid experience while maintaining security and identity protection. The Eiger API enables users to connect and automate their AM operations with existing enterprise software. Digital inventory can be managed more efficiently through batch operations and presets used throughout the organization. Performance indicators related to time and cost savings from 3D printing can be tracked, analyzed and shared.
“Additive technology is transforming manufacturing around the world. Eiger Fleet fuels the expansion of additive manufacturing by giving our customers the right set of control and management tools that address the concerns of security, quality management, auditing or user error,” said David Benhaim, CTO and co-founder of Markforged. “Our customers are able to grow their operations with the right level of control over quality and process. Eiger Fleet is setting the pace for what’s possible in the future of manufacturing, through cloud-enabled distributed manufacturing.”
To demonstrate the potential for the tool, Markforged described the work of customer Vestas Wind Systems A/S , a sustainable energy company that is 3D printing parts and tools for wind turbines on Markforged machines. Using the new software, the firm is able to order a part from within the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which generates a digitized Kanban inventory system. The component is then produced by the closest Markforged printer in the network.
Using Markforged technology, Vestas has been able to reduce costs and lead times, such as in the production of a marking tool necessary for blade assembly. Whereas this tool previously required three weeks of lead time and cost thousands of dollars, it can now go from design to installation in just three days and for less than $100.
“Over the past several years, Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) has evolved at Vestas to connect our factories around the world to support agile production of parts and tools on demand,” said Jeremy Haight, Principal Engineer, Industrial Automation and Additive Manufacturing at Vestas. “We depend on the Markforged platform with Eiger Fleet and Blacksmith to provide the centralized control, enterprise resource planning (ERP), asset management, and other system integration and print analysis for industrial grade additive manufacturing that our global business needs.”
For those who focus more on such developments as speed, materials, and new hardware systems, Eiger Fleet may earn only a fleeting glance. However, the tool seems like a crucial step not just for Markforged but for 3D printing as a whole. At the moment, we’re seeing a variety of small software startups (Valuechain, 3DTrust, 3YourMind, AMFG, Authentise) attempt to create these sorts of products for the additive manufacturing industry. Some of these have already been acquired, including Link3D by Materialise and Oqton by 3D Systems.
The ability to integrate 3D printing into the larger workflow of a business, including the myriad software already deployed to run production operations, is necessary for the technology to be more heavily relied on. We’re seeing the same trend in CAD, where major software developers are finding ways to more easily work with existing software systems, like ERP. So, while we talk a lot about the future of distributed manufacturing and virtual inventor, Eiger Fleet represents a step toward actually realizing those concepts. This segment, categorized as additive manufacturing execution and production management software (AMES) by SmarTech Analysis, is discussed in more depth in the firm’s Opportunities in Additive Manufacturing Software Markets 2020 report.
And we can see Markforged developing these concepts in real-time as it performs work with such companies as the Würth Group, which is already focused on inventory management solutions. As this software develops alongside 3D printing and other automation solutions, like AM-FLOW automated handling products and DyeMansion/PostProcess Technologies finishing, we may actually get closer to something resembling lights-out manufacturing.
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