Desktop Metal Aims to Increase Accessibility of Metal-Making Capabilities [1]

Affordable metal 3D printing could democratize manufacturing once and for all

Massachusetts-based startup Desktop Metal has become the fastest company in U.S. history to reach a billion-dollar valuation [2] through its patented 3D metal printing technology capable of printing cast quality metal parts [3]. Products can be printed in 30 different alloys and hundreds of metal materials [4], including steel and aluminum [3].

To date, two manufacturing systems have been released. The studio system, for smaller one-off jobs, was released in September 2017. The full production system, meant for larger volumes, was released in 2018 to select partners, including BMW and Caterpillar [5].

Compared to today’s laser-based metal 3D printers, Desktop Metal’s Production System is up to 100 times faster [6] and offers 10 times cheaper initial costs and 20 times cheaper material costs [7]. The system promises to be cheaper and faster than traditional metal cast molding and requires no hazardous materials or post processing [8].

See Intro Video Here.

Application

To create a product, users load their STL or CAD file into Desktop Metal software to create build plans. Based on the part’s geometry and material, the software automatically generates supports and control parameters that will ensure the structural integrity of the final product [9]. Studio systems print via Bound Metal Deposition, in which metal powder held together by wax and polymer are heated and extruded in layers [10]. Production systems print through Single Pass Jetting, wherein each pass, the printer deposits precise layers of metal powder and a binding agent [11]. These processes are unique to Desktop Metal. The final product is immersed in a debind fluid to dissolve the primary binder and to prepare the piece for sintering, in which the part is heated in a furnace, the remaining binder removed, and metal particles fuse [9].

Figure 1. Studio System Process

The studio system printer is priced at $120,000, including the furnace. A full production system and furnace is priced at a base of $420,000 [12]. This price is 10 times less than competitor offerings [13]. Desktop Metal also offers the option to rent [12].

Looking Forward

Following the release of the first two products, Desktop Metal is focused on growing their user base, refining their products, and scaling the business. Desktop Metal will refine their target market [14] and attempt to convert manufacturers from existing production methods to 3D printing [15]. After the introduction of the Studio System, Desktop Metal has collaborated with hundreds of customers across major industries to inform product development [16]. The company also plans to increase staff and reach and to expand into Asia and Europe [17].

As part of the continued R&D process, Desktop Metals is experimenting with 3D printing of amorphous metals, metals that, when heated, behave more like glass or plastic. Amorphous metals are malleable, strong, and harder and more corrosion-resistant than conventional metals. This will offer new applications of the technology [18].

Additionally, in collaboration with SolidWorks, the company is developing a new software program called Live Force. The software applies machine learning to design lightweight parts that are strain and fatigue resistant. Live Force simulates forces over time to determine the most efficient design [19].

Recommendations

Desktop Metal should continue to invest in R&D. Continued exploration and experimentation in materials will drive innovation and potentially technology adoption. Future product development should pursue reduced equipment costs and increased production rate to improve the accessibility of the system. Live Force will require ongoing product development and verification from key opinion leaders across industries to overcome consumer hesitations and encourage mass adoption of the software.

To deliver on scale, Desktop Metal should consider designing a process in which either a machine or chemical bath can remove the Separable Supports post-sintering, rather than requiring human labor [9]. This will encourage scalability of mass production.

As popularity of metal additive manufacturing increases, so may demand for the size of the final products. For instance, L.A. based start-up Relativity Space has successfully 3D printed a full-scale aerospace quality fuel tank, measuring 7 feet in diameter and 14 feet in height [20]. Desktop Metal should consider if they want to expand their technology to produce such large products.

Desktop Metal should consider integrating Quality Assurance into its printing processes so that human inspection is not required for each piece. Sigma Labs would offer an excellent partnership candidate, as they are actively working with Boeing’s metal additive manufacturing process to develop a QA software that does not interfere with production [4].

As the company matures, Desktop Metal should consider whether its long-term strategy aligns with remaining a private company or going public. If the company elects to IPO, Desktop Metal should devise an IPO strategy that balances its short-term objectives and long-term goals [21].

Open Questions

  • What will be required to reach the tipping point where additive manufacturing becomes a major player in the manufacturing space?
  • How will 3D printing impact manufacturing jobs? What responsibility do 3D printing companies have to the communities whose livelihood is built around a factory?

 

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References

[1] Kolodny, Lora. “BMW and Lowe’s among Investors Pouring $45 Million into Desktop Metal, the 3D Printer Startup.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 6 Feb. 2017, techcrunch.com/2017/02/06/bmw-and-lowes-among-investors-pouring-45-million-into-desktop-metal-the-3-d-printer-startup/.

[2] Schubarth, Cromwell. “These 10 Unicorns Flew the Fastest to Billion Dollar Valuations.” Bizjournals.com, The Business Journals, 2 May 2018, www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2018/05/02/unicorn-startups-desktop-metal-grail-essential.html#g/433987/1.

[3] Kolodny, Lora. “Ford Is Investing in Desktop Metal, a 3-D Printing Start-Up.” CNBC, CNBC, 19 Mar. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/03/19/ford-future-fund-invest-65-million-in-desktop-metal-3-d-printers.html.

[4] Kerns, Jeff. “Tech Forecast: What’s Next for 3D Printing?” Machine Design, 9 May 2018, www.machinedesign.com/3d-printing/tech-forecast-whats-next-3d-printing.

[5] Person. “The 50 Smartest Companies of 2017 Might Not Be What You Think.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 7 Feb. 2018, www.technologyreview.com/lists/companies/2017/intro/.

[6] Hiawatha Bray -. “Thinking Outside the Mold, with 3-D Printers That Make Objects of Steel – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 22 Oct. 2017, www.bostonglobe.com/business/2017/10/22/thinking-outside-mold-with-printers-that-make-objects-steel/qV01XfxcKVV1SLBAnB7ylM/story.html.

[7] Blain, Loz. “100x Faster, 10x Cheaper: 3D Metal Printing Is about to Go Mainstream.” New Atlas – New Technology & Science News, New Atlas, 27 July 2017, newatlas.com/desktop-metal-3d-printing/50654/.

[8] O’Connor, Daniel. “Production Ready – Desktop Metal Prepares to Unleash Its Production System.” TCT Magazine, 1 May 2018, www.tctmagazine.com/3d-printing-news/desktop-metal-unleashes-production-system/.

[9] “Desktop Metal Studio Systm.” Desktop Metal, www.desktopmetal.com/products/studio/.

[10] “Deep Dive: Bound Metal Deposition.” Desktop Metal, www.desktopmetal.com/article/deep-dive-bound-metal-deposition/.

[11] Winn, Zach, and MIT News Office. “Startup Uses 3-D Printing to Reinvent the Production of Metal Parts.” MIT News, 5 Oct. 2018, news.mit.edu/2018/desktop-metal-3-d-printing-production-studio-1004.

[12] Person. “The 50 Smartest Companies of 2017 Might Not Be What You Think.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 7 Feb. 2018, www.technologyreview.com/lists/companies/2017/intro/#desktop-metal.

[13] Knapp, Alex. “This Startup Aims To Revolutionize Metal 3D Printing For Manufacturers.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Apr. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2017/04/25/this-startup-aims-to-revolutionize-metal-3d-printing-for-manufacturers/#6507ab231e04.

[14] “Desktop Metal Is ‘Excited to Contribute to the Industry with Our Technology’ as Metal 3D Printing Excites the Market.” 3DPrint.Com | The Voice of 3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing, 17 May 2018, 3dprint.com/213997/desktop-metal-interview-rapid-2018/.

[15] Rotman, David. “A New 3-D Printer Could Finally Let the Technology Live up to Its Promise.” MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 19 May 2017, www.technologyreview.com/s/604088/the-3-d-printer-that-could-finally-change-manufacturing/.

[16] “PRESS RELEASE – Desktop Metal Introduces Studio System+ and Studio…” Desktop Metal, www.desktopmetal.com/news/press-release-sep062018/.

[17] “Desktop Metal Announces International Expansion for Its Metal 3D Printing Systems.” MarketWatch, MarketWatch, 9 Nov. 2017, www.marketwatch.com/press-release/desktop-metal-announces-international-expansion-for-its-metal-3d-printing-systems-2017-11-09.

[18] Jackson, Beau, et al. “Could Bulk Metallic Glass 3D Printing Be Desktop Metal’s next Move?” 3D Printing Industry, 11 Sept. 2018, 3dprintingindustry.com/news/could-bulk-metallic-glass-3d-printing-be-desktop-metals-next-move-139498/.

[19] “Live Parts.” DM Labs, labs.desktopmetal.com/liveparts/.

[20] Molitch-Hou, Michael. “Relativity Space Steps Closer to 3D Printing Complete Rocket with New Investment.” Biomedical Engineering Jobs | ENGINEERING.com, www.engineering.com/3DPrinting/3DPrintingArticles/ArticleID/16768/Relativity-Space-Steps-Closer-to-3D-Printing-Complete-Rocket-with-New-Investment.aspx.

[21] Epstein, Jeff. “5 Essential Steps to Prepare for an IPO.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 17 Apr. 2015, www.entrepreneur.com/article/236147.

[Movie: The 3D Printing Company that Could Transform Manufacturing]  Technology, Bloomberg. “The 3D Printing Company That Could Transform Manufacturing.” YouTube, YouTube, 14 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-reePpsN6w.

[Movie: Affordable Metal 3D Printing for the Office] “Desktop Metal | Affordable Metal 3D Printing for The Office.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 Sept. 2017, youtu.be/QmZUPNPj5io.

[Movie: Introducing Live Parts] “Desktop Metal – Introducing Live Parts™.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 Feb. 2018, youtu.be/ka6xfFU0A_c.

[Featured Image] “Desktop Metal Home.” Desktop Metal, www.desktopmetal.com/.

[Figure 1] “Desktop Metal Process.” AET Labs, 27 June 2017, aetlabs.com/product/desktop-metal/howitworks/.

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2 thoughts on “Desktop Metal Aims to Increase Accessibility of Metal-Making Capabilities [1]

  1. I believe the tipping point for 3D printing will be the speed of producing parts at a large scale. Today’s application of 3D printing is mostly for prototyping new components, which are then used to create injection molds and production parts at scale. I see a future where 3D printers are able to produce components at a much faster rate, approaching the time it takes to create components today, but without the need for additional tooling and injection molding required today. When that happens, 3D printing can begin the transition from the contemporary production process to a new 3D printing led process.

  2. Thank you for the article. Interesting read!

    Your questions at the end of the article are spot on for other considerations for the firm. Given my previous experience working for a large manufacturing company, in order for 3D printing to become the primary manufacturing method, the speed needs to be increased even more. While Desktop Metal has improved the speed versus competitors, it is still no where near the speeds required for large manufacturers to fulfill their demand. In the current environment however, it is actually very time and cost intensive to get metal molds for various production processes. Therefore, even the ability to get a metal mold at a reasonable unit cost would be a huge enabler and value add for companies. Therefore, while the company is working on improving the speed, they can use their technology to drive unit cost down such that 3D printed models are more cost and time efficient for companies to use to work within their existing production systems. This is also a great way to build a relationship with major manufacturers and then the company can build upon that relationship to win additional business in the future.

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