Manufacturing Engineering: Desktop Metal recently introduced the Studio System 2. How is it different than its predecessor, the Studio System+?
Arjun Aggarwal: We first launched our Studio System towards the end of 2018 as a path to make metal 3D printing more accessible. It eliminated the lasers and loose powders of legacy powder bed fusion printers with a platform that can be used in an office environment, right next to the design team. And even though a broad set of industries has adopted the original Studio System+, we’re always trying to enhance our technologies. As such, we saw a way to eliminate the debind step and its chemical solvents through a complete reformulation of our materials. This makes the whole process more hands-off and streamlined while also improving part quality. It’s a big step forward in terms of the end-use parts and how customers use the system.
ME: What does this mean to owners of your legacy system? And is there an upgrade path?
Aggarwal: Current users do have an opportunity to upgrade. We’ll send out a technician from one of our local authorized resellers, who will perform a minor hardware upgrade that gives users access to some cool new features. These include a new printhead and a mechanism for refilling our quick-change cartridges, which streamlines the media replacement process somewhat. Most importantly, it gives them all the benefits of a Studio System 2 as described earlier.
ME: Some in the industry suggest that the biggest roadblock to widespread additive manufacturing (AM) adoption is high material cost. Do you agree, and if so, what is Desktop Metal doing to combat this problem?
Aggarwal: I would not view it as the biggest roadblock, but rather one of several roadblocks, and one we address with our Production System solutions. This platform uses the same off-the-shelf raw materials found in the MIM (metal injection molding) industry, which are pretty low cost compared to most additive materials. What we do view as the most significant roadblocks, however, are productivity and reliability. Tackling both of these will allow widespread adoption of additive manufacturing, and again, each has been addressed through our Production and Shop Systems, which are focused on the volume production of end-use parts—what we call Additive Manufacturing 2.0.
ME: Desktop Metal recently acquired EnvisionTEC, opening the door to “volume production” of polymer parts using Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology. Given your historical focus on metals, why pursue this market?
Aggarwal: Despite our extensive metal AM capabilities, we recognize that polymers are a better choice for many applications across a range of verticals. With that in mind, we thought EnvisionTEC was an excellent fit for us. They have a robust intellectual property portfolio that includes key patents around DLP and an industrial-grade, scalable, and area-wide 3D printing technology that is well-suited to high-volume AM for end-use parts in polymers. Given their library of over 190 qualified materials, high print speeds, and cost structures offered by their solutions such as the Xtreme 8K and Envision One, we’re very excited to have EnvisionTEC as part of the Desktop Metal family.
ME: Over the past year or so, Desktop Metal has been testing its new Production System P-50 with select companies and will reportedly move into serial production in the second half of 2021. What have been the results of this beta testing? Any lessons learned?
Aggarwal: The feedback has been great. We’ve learned quite a bit about the P-50 and how to enable repeatability at high volumes with AM. One of the most important things we discovered is that powder input consistency is a huge factor in achieving reliability at scale. That’s why we offer an automated, closed-loop powder processing unit with the Production System P-50. Without a solution like this, you can end up with atmospheric and environmental conditions that affect your powder inputs, which ultimately affect your end parts. For instance, you could have a difference in part quality when you’re printing in the summer versus printing in the winter, or if you have one factory in India and another in Alaska. The P-50 uses an inert atmosphere to facilitate robust and repeatable printing, something that’s especially important since it also enables compatibility with reactive metals like titanium and aluminum.
ME: Building on the previous question, which industries do you expect will benefit the most from this new system? What should they know before going down the additive road?
Aggarwal: We designed the Production System P-50 to create hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of parts a year, depending on the part size and how many you can fit in a build. Regardless, it’s quite fast, with print speeds as fast as three seconds per layer or less, so we’re targeting high-volume industrial manufacturers who might otherwise utilize MIM, casting, and, in some cases, machining. That means OEMs and their Tier 1 or 2 suppliers across automotive, consumer products, oil and gas, and general industrial machinery and machine components. When you throw in the greater geometric flexibility and reduction or even elimination of tooling expenses, the economics get you to the point where you’re cost-competitive against those traditional manufacturing technologies at quantities well into the hundreds of thousands of parts.
ME: Given the strong foothold enjoyed by machining, die-casting, and other traditional manufacturing processes, can you offer any part cost or quality justifications for manufacturers to invest in one of your Production Systems? Can you compete with these established technologies?
Aggarwal: Consider this: in 2019, traditional manufacturing was a $12 trillion industry. Additive represented only 0.1 percent of that, or $12 billion. So even if additive grows ten-fold, it will still be just 1 percent of manufacturing overall. So there can be tremendous growth in the industry without replacing machining or casting or injection molding entirely. That said, there’s already a substantial business case for additive’s use in prototyping, and that will gradually expand into volume production with solutions like our Shop System and Production System on the metal side and the Envision One and Xtreme 8K on the polymer side. Each of these offer accessibility, build speeds, and production economics that compete favorably with conventional manufacturing technologies.
ME: Desktop Metal has enjoyed a lot of growth recently. What’s next for you?
Aggarwal: All I can say is that we’re very excited about the current portfolio. Almost all of our products are either newly introduced or have been refreshed in the past year or so, and therefore incorporate the latest and greatest technologies. So there’s a lot of runway to commercialize these systems and get them out there in the wild. Between the increased productivity and wide range of materials, we feel like we’re at the cusp of a huge growth phase for the industry.
Sigma Labs Reports ‘Excellent Year’
“Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, 2020 was a gratifying year for Sigma Labs,” said Mark Ruport, president and CEO of Sigma Labs, Santa Fe, N.M. “The industries we focus on were hit hard by COVID-19 and caused almost every opportunity we were pursuing to be delayed, reduced in scope, and, in a few instances, canceled. Despite the negative impact on our pipeline, we still doubled revenue.” Some highlights include:
- A contract with a leading global energy technology provider will begin production deployment of PrintRite3D in-process quality assurance software.
- An extended relationship with Additive Industries, a 3D metal AM provider, to certify the company’s MetalFAB1 as PrintRite3D ready.
- A contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) to install a PrintRite3D system on a laser powder bed fusion system for the development and qualification of MHI’s production processes.
- A contract to implement PrintRite3D Real-Time Melt Pool Analytics technology at Northwestern University.
- A joint sales agreement with Materialise NV to cooperate on the integration of the Materialise MCP Controller with Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D technology.
And there’s more. “Today, we are seeing increased activity in what I believe to be a rejuvenated 3D metal printing market,” said Ruport. “Looking into 2021, we’re expanding our focus on new markets and opportunities, including aerospace, space exploration and defense. Our strategic alliance with IN4.OS supports this mission as well.”
Essentium Fast Forwards Industrial-Scale AM Innovation
Additive manufacturing solution provider Essentium Inc., Pflugerville, Texas, has launched EssentiumX, an interdisciplinary group of AM engineers and scientists able to fast-track the visions of large-scale manufacturers and make them a reality. The team will test and develop new materials and processes using the company’s High Speed Extrusion (HSE) 3D printing platform as part of a contract with the U.S. Air Force and the National Guard Bureau (NGB). Said Chief Development Officer Elisa Teipel, “Additive manufacturing has the potential to transform what and how things are manufactured, transform the economics of manufacturing, and remove supply chain risk. The single biggest challenge large manufacturers face, however, is having the IP and skills needed to make their AM vision a reality, and to realize the far-reaching potential of AM. This is the problem EssentiumX will solve.”
According to the company, EssentiumX will provide manufacturers with the critical thinking, early blueprints, and knowledge transfer needed to transform legacy processes and applications, and create previously unimagined products using the company’s HSE 3D printing platform.
Fortify Secures Significant Cash
Fortify, a Boston-based additive manufacturing startup, recently closed a $20 million equity round led by Cota Capital with participation from Accel Partners, Neotribe Ventures, and Prelude Ventures. According to Fortify, this round of capital will fuel team growth, accelerate expansion in high-value application spaces, and transition to volume manufacturing of the Flux Series 3D printers. “Fortify has been focused on proving the viability of our product and its market opportunity over the past 18+ months, and we exceeded our goals set at the beginning of 2020,” said CEO and Co-Founder Josh Martin. “This next round will expand our go-to-market footprint in key verticals such as injection mold tooling while enabling us to capture market share in end-use electronic devices.”
‘Revolution’ in Industrial Hoisting
Airflight APS, a Danish designer and manufacturer of human-sized drones for industrial use, turned to BigRep of Berlin for a better way to make large-scale patterns and molds that were reportedly quite expensive and slow to produce using CNC machining centers. “BigRep allowed us to iterate large-scale carbon fiber parts five times cheaper than with standard CNC milling,” said Mikkel Kærsgaard Sørensen, technical director and co-founder of Airflight. “With a single machine, we can now produce prototypes, molds, jigs, and fixtures.”
VELO3D Set to Go Public
Campbell, Calif.-based VELO3D and JAWS Spitfire Acquisition Corp. of Miami Beach, Fla. have entered into a definitive business combination agreement. Upon completion of the transaction—expected to occur in the second half of 2021—the combined company will operate as VELO3D and be listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) under the new ticker symbol “VLD.” Since its launch in the fourth quarter of 2018, VELO3D has serviced a number of high profile customers, including SpaceX, Honeywell, Boom Supersonic, Chromalloy and Lam Research. The company will receive up to $345 million in proceeds from JAWS Spitfire’s cash in trust and a $155 million private placement of common stock at a $10 per share value. The current management team, including founder and CEO Benny Buller and CFO Bill McCombe, will continue to lead VELO3D through its next phase of growth, the company said.
Jabil Introduces PA 0600 Filament
Jabil Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla. has introduced a new additive material, Jabil PA 0600, said to deliver the high strength and stiffness needed for demanding aerospace, automotive and industrial manufacturing applications. The material was created and is currently being produced at the company’s Minnesota-based Materials Innovation Center for use in traditional and additive manufacturing. “Our PA 0600 filament has a unique formulation with Acetal plastic attributes but without the potentially dangerous formaldehyde emissions associated with overheating,” said Matt Torosian, Jabil’s additive product management director. Equally interesting were the results of Jabil’s March 2021 survey on 3D Printing Technology Trends. Nearly 50 percent of the respondents expect their use of 3D printing for production parts to double over the next three to five years, despite the fact that more than half of those polled cited lengthy material development cycles as a major challenge, up from 27 percent two years earlier.
New Entry to Metal AM Market
Wayland Additive Ltd., Huddersfield, U.K., has entered the metal 3D printer manufacturing fray with the introduction of its Calibur3 machine and NeuBeam process. During a virtual launch event, company CTO Ian Laidler noted that this is not a “me-too, copy-cat product.” NeuBeam is an entirely new powder bed fusion (PBF) process, he explained, and offers the opportunity to 3D print metal parts that cannot be produced today due to current metal AM process limitations. Some attributes of the new machine include:
- The production of large parts up to 300 × 300 × 450 mm without worry over residual stress or gas cross flow and without having to pre-sinter the powder bed.
- Substantially reduced energy consumption and print times, with the ability to produce fully dense parts in a wide range of metal materials.
- A simplified powder removal process and significantly less post-processing compared with existing EBM processes.
- The introduction of a built-in, real-time in-process monitoring control system for stable production.
“The Calibur3 system featuring the NeuBeam process sits between SLM and EBM systems, and provides a leap forward,” said Peter Hansford, Wayland’s director of business development. Presentations of the virtual event are available at www.waylandadditive.com.
Levil Develops Hybrid Metal Printing and Machining Lab
CNC machine builder Levil Technology of Oviedo, Fla. has partnered with The Virtual Foundry, a fused filament fabrication (FFF) material provider in Stoughton, Wis., and sintering kiln manufacturer Sapphire3D, Lake in the Hills, Illinois, to develop “a complete metal 3D printing lab.”
The kit includes: a) the Levil EDU-Mill equipped with an industry-grade, dual-head 3D printer and selection of Levil, FANUC, or Mitsubishi control; b) The Virtual Foundry’s proprietary metal 3D printing filaments; and c) Sapphire3D’s kiln, used to sinter the finished parts. The new system is intended to make hybrid metal 3D printing together with CNC machining easy and affordable for schools and organizations across the U.S.
Solize and HP Enable Sustainable 3D Production
Automaker Nissan is collaborating with HP Inc. and Tokyo-based digital manufacturer Solize Corp. to provide replacement parts for the global heritage market. These include industrial-grade quality replacement parts for Nissan Motorsports (NISMO) vehicles, among them a plastic harness protector for the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R, made of HP’s High Reusability PA 11 and printed on the company’s Multi Jet Fusion platform. The move is intended to leverage flexible design and just-in-time production systems that meet the demand for complex parts while reducing costs, and cut down on industrial waste and CO2 emissions throughout the product lifecycle.