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AMS Spring 2023

Desktop Metal’s Digital Sheet Forming Grows Company Beyond 3D Printing

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When it comes to announcing new technologies, Desktop Metal, Inc. (NYSE: DM) is a bold company. It has introduced a number of unique 3D printing materials and processes that seemingly expand the breadth of additive manufacturing (AM) beyond legacy technologies. Its latest news takes Desktop Metal even farther and into the sheet metal industry. Ahead of IMTS 2022, the company has announced the launch of the Figur G15 and its Digital Sheet Forming (DSF) technology.

Introducing the Figur G15

DSF is exactly what it sounds like: a process for forming standard sheet metal into a desired shape. The Figur G15 is the first commercial machine from an AM company that can perform this type of operation without any stamping tools, molds, dies, or presses. By taking on the $300 billion sheet metal forming and fabrication industry, Desktop Metal is demonstrating just how far out of the box the AM industry should start thinking.

The system deploys a ceramic toolhead mounted on an X-Y gantry and up to 2,000 lbs of force to shape metal at a speed of one meter per second. Feed stocks include a variety of metals with varying thicknesses, such as steel up to 2.0 mm thick and aluminum up to 2.5 mm thick. It does so within a forming area of 1450 x 1000 mm (57 x 39 in), hammering metal up to 400 mm (16 in) in the vertical Z direction.

The Figur G15 system.

“If you look at a car, it’s all made of sheet metal parts. You stamp parts, and then you weld them together. You have no way to 3D print sheet metal parts. Sheet metal is really cost effective. The materials are available in bulk at very low cost. The ability to form super high resolution class A surfaces is something that doesn’t exist with additive. Usually, you have to make tooling to stamp it, and that’s very expensive, especially at reasonable volumes,” Desktop Metal founder and CEO Ric Fulop told 3DPrint.com. “Now, this is the first time that someone’s designed a printer for sheet metal—that is, you push a button, you get a sheet metal part formed—and that is with amazing complexity, like the hood of a car, very rapidly.”

Desktop Metal Moves Beyond 3D Printing

AM has traditionally aimed to compete with a number of conventional manufacturing sectors. In metals, this has been CNC machining, as well as metal injection molding, forging, and casting. Sheet metal forming has typically been just out of reach, however. There really is no 3D printing technology capable of delivery what’s desired from sheet metal production, even with large format metal AM like directed energy deposition or carbon fiber 3D printing.

A sheet metal part being formed.

For the first time, then, an AM company is able to target sheet metal components head-on. The development of DSF opens Desktop Metal up to a whole new range of customers and markets, including aerospace/military and automotive. While the price of the Figur G15 hasn’t been released yet, a stamping press can cost in the $1 million range. Moreover, it doesn’t require the tools and dies needed to manufacture with one, meaning that Desktop Metal’s DSF technology can reduce the cost and time associated with sheet metal production.

As a comparison, Desktop uses an automotive exhaust muffler, whose die might run $150,000 with a three-month lead time. To make 1,000 copies, it would cost about $160 per part. In contrast, the Figur G15 could produce the same quantity in just a few weeks at $10 per part, mostly in the form of materials and labor. With little to no lead time, it may be possible to cut the cost of a part by more than 90 percent.

Unique geometries formed with DSF technology.

“After years of development, we’re excited to show our Digital Sheet Forming technology to sheet metal fabricators,” said Fulop in a press release. “Sheet metal forming with the Figur G15 is accessible, flexible, and cost-effective, even at low volumes. Manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace, appliance and other industries can now produce a fully formed part in less than an hour without a major investment of time or money.”

Digital Sheet Forming on Display at IMTS

Desktop Metal has a massive materials and process portfolio, with 650 patents (and pending patents) in total. This introduces one more technology to the range. While one might worry about the firm’s rapid growth rate, Fulop assured us in a recent interview that Desktop Metal is doing its best to integrate all of its assets in a balanced and cohesive manner.

Fulop told us that attendees will see it running at IMTS 2022, where it will be performing demonstrations two times a day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m at booth #432212. “It’s a beefy machine. It will be running in demo at IMTS, so you can actually see it making parts,” Fulop told 3DPrint.com.

A car hood made with the Figur G15.

In addition to the Figur G15, Desktop will be showing off its the Shop System+ and Shop System Pro at Desktop Metal Booth 433103, and SolidCAM Booth 134502, which will also host the Studio System, in the East Building. The Production System P-1 will be at booth 433103. The S-Max Flex will be at booth 432212. The ETEC Xtreme 8K and ETEC Envision One will be on display as well.

All images courtesy of Desktop Metal.

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