AM Investment Strategies
AMS Spring 2023

S-Max Flex Sand 3D Printer Unveiled by ExOne

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Upon its integration of ExOne and EnvisionTEC into its portfolio, Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM) is continuing to showcase newly branded 3D printers. The latest is the S-Max Flex, described by the company as the “most affordable sand 3D printer to ever be offered by ExOne.” The machine is meant to bring Desktop Metal’s single pass jetting (SPJ) technology to metal foundries.

Sand 3D printing has proven to be an exciting technology for foundries to quickly produce sand molds, cores, and inserts for the casting of large metal components. Whereas it might typically take weeks or months to get a traditionally made mold for sand casting, 3D printing makes it possible to produce sand cores and molds in a matter of hours or days. With 3D printing, complexity is free, meaning that producing elaborate geometries is just as simple for the machine as a less complicated part. Moreover, much of the labor and scrap associated with creating sand cores is eliminated.

The S-Max Flex 3D printer from Desktop Metal. Image courtesy of Desktop Metal.

Up until now, ExOne’s sand 3D printing technology has been limited due to its containment in enclosed binder jetting machines. The new system relies on an industrial robotic arm to make for a more flexible 3D printing platform with a build volume similar to ExOne S-Max machines at 1,900 x 1000 x 1000 mm (39.4 x 74.8 x 39.4 in) envelope. The S-Max Flex is available with build volumes of 4700 x 1000 x 1000 mm (185 x 39 x 39 in), with taller versions available up to 1000 x 2500 x 2400 mm (39 x 98 x 94 in) as well. It also features a new print head and recoater design to introduce SPJ to the world of sand printing. This results in printing speeds of up to 115 liters per hour. This compares to the S-Max Pro, with its 1,800 X 1,000 X 700 mm/400H build volume and 125 l/h speed; the S-Max, with its 1,800 × 1,000 × 700 mm and 100 l/h speed; and the S-Print with a comparable petite 800 × 500 × 400 mm envelope and 39 l/h speed.

Other details about the S-Max Flex include environmental controls and sand drying capabilities, new printhead mount design for improved calibration and alignment, Desktop Metal Fabricate MFG software to aid in build box nesting and advanced sling, remote customer support, and a customizable safety system.

The S-Max Flex keeps foundries competitive by enabling same-day castings of the complex cores becoming increasingly common as manufacturers consolidate and lightweight metal parts for electric cars and a new future. The new machine will be live at CastExpo 2022, April 23-26, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio, USA.

If the design looks familiar, it may be because it resembles the Robotic Additive Manufacturing (RAM) system from Viridis3D, which was acquired by EnvisionTEC. The move was interesting for a polymers company, but, then again, it had also announced the development of its massive SLCOM 1 composite 3D printer around the same time. The S-Max Flex seems to be a redesign of the RAM technique and, in fact, ExOne describes the system as “[d]esigned from the ground up off an existing concept.” In fact, Desktop Metal is using the RAM 336 platform for 3D printing wood objects under its Forust brand, as well.

It’s interesting to see Desktop Metal shuffle around its technology to place machines where they fit best. Desktop Health, for instance, now includes vertical specific 3D printers and materials from EnvisionTEC, which has become the industrial division dubbed ETEC. The RAM platform is now a part of ExOne for sand casting and Forust for wood 3D printing.

If the company can organize itself internally quickly enough, perhaps it will be on the road to profitability, at which point it really could be a giant to be reckoned with. We may even see a Desktop Metal composites line, with EnvisionTEC’s SLCOM 1 3D printer finally rolled out commercially. This would likely occur alongside the Fiber desktop composite 3D printer that I don’t believe has officially seen commercial release.

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