Desktop Metal (NYSE: DM) has announced that it has begun commercial shipments of its Digital Sheet Forming (DSF) machine, the Figur G15. The systems are destined for Saltworks Fab, an automotive restoration and hot rod company based in Florida.
Saltworks Fab creates metal body panels that are no longer commercially available, often relying on manual hammering and laborious forming processes. With the introduction of two new Figur G15 systems, the company aims to revolutionize its standard approach, reducing production times and broadening its offerings to cater to new customers. Additionally, the use of DSF will enable the crafting of complex shapes, efficient one-offs, and short-run designs. Recently, Saltworks Fab showcased the capabilities of the Figur G15 at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, creating the entire side body of a Mercedes Gullwing with 6061 aluminum panels formed on the G15 in under 10 hours for the complete 15-piece assembly.
David Jacobsen, CEO of Saltworks Fab, said of the new equipment, “Our team has over 100 years of combined metal-shaping experience, and we’re excited to bring the latest digital metal forming technology in-house. The Figur G15 buys us time. It allows us to bring vintage vehicles back to their former glory while also enabling us to enter a whole new level of business helping customers that currently don’t have the ability or resources to form metal. Figur G15 allows us to expand access to metal-shaping services to a broader variety of small businesses, design shops, and self-builders.”
Alongside the Saltworks news, custom classic car influencer Rob Ida of Rob Ida Concepts in New Jersey shared on Instagram how he is using DSF technology. Specifically, he is relying on the Figur G15 to create components for a 1955 Tucker Carioca, a vehicle concept from the legendary carmaker Preston Tucker that never made it from drawing to production.
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Justin Nardone, CEO of Figur, a Desktop Metal brand, expressed his excitement, stating, “The response to Figur G15 from the market across a wide variety of sectors has been exciting. The G15 eliminates a lot of the work required when forming metal, such as the design and manufacturing of tools and dies. Our system produces designs quickly, accurately, and repeatedly, so manufacturers are able to focus on the craftsmanship of design while getting their products to market faster and more efficiently.”
The Nascent Digital Sheet Forming Market
While digital sheet metal forming processes have been explored in academia for over a decade by researchers like Northwestern’s Jian Cao and the University of Chester’s Amar Behera, they have yet to see widespread commercialization. Prof. Cao’s lab has collaborated with major companies such as Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan, and Boeing, with Ford showcasing its Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology around 2013.
However, it was only when Desktop Metal acquired the sheet metal forming startup Figur that the broader 3D printing industry was truly introduced to this process. The Figur G15 was introduced as International Manufacturing Technology Show 2022, demonstrating Desktop Metal’s desire to expand beyond 3D printing. The Figur G15 relies on a ceramic toolhead on an X-Y gantry with up to 2,000 pounds of force to shape standard pieces of sheet metal at remarkable speeds.
This was followed, several months later, by news that Machina Labs had developed its own robotic stamping technology. In October 2023, the startup successfully secured $32 million in a Series B funding round led by NVIDIA’s NVentures. Unlike Machina Labs, Figur’s technology doesn’t rely on robotic arms, and Desktop Metal doesn’t emphasize the use of artificial intelligence and digital twins as Machina does in its robotic sheet forming process. While the exact advantages and disadvantages of these approaches may not be immediately evident, one notable advantage of Machina’s technique appears to be the potential for a virtually limitless work envelope.
The Bigger Picture for Desktop Metal
The news comes as Desktop Metal, like most publicly traded 3D printing companies, faces a tumultuous macroeconomic environment. On November 22, 2023, the firm received a notice from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) indicating that it was not in compliance with NYSE’s continued listing standards due to its common stock’s average closing price being below $1.00 over a consecutive 30 trading-day period. The same occurred with its competitor Markforged, which received a similar notice on November 20th.
This notice does not lead to immediate delisting but provides a six-month window for Desktop Metal to regain compliance. The company intends to explore options, including a reverse stock split, subject to stockholder approval, to meet the stock price requirement. During this cure period, Desktop Metal’s common stock will continue to be listed and traded on the NYSE, provided it complies with other NYSE listing standards.
News like that of the Figur G15 shipment has the benefit of temporarily raising stock prices and reassuring investors that the company can regain momentum despite this difficult period. Saltworks Fab is planning to further expand its capabilities by adding two additional G15 systems, bringing their total fleet to four machines. According to Desktop Metal, Saltworks’ machines will be running continuously over three shifts to meet the increasing demand for their services.
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