Desktop Metal Inc., the company founded in 2015 with no plan to produce a production-level printer, is now promoting 3D printing for high-volume serial production under its AM (additive manufacturing) 2.0 initiative.
“We’re really pushing to make sure our equipment is robust enough and reliable enough to really support the demands of true industrial production, and that it’s also delivering the materials and the accuracy (that are) requirements of industrial production and throughput,” said Sarah Webster, chief marketing officer. She cited an unnamed customer in Germany who’s using AM for “true high-volume automotive production.”
Along with its move to push 3D printing out of the office and onto the factory floor, Desktop Metal recently acquired a business that has led to new material offerings, and another that’s a pioneer in additive manufacturing in Italy.
FreeFoam was invented and developed by photopolymer and elastomer materials company Adaptive 3D (Plano, Texas), which became a subsidiary of Desktop Metal following a 2021 acquisition. The new material, a photopolymer resin containing heat-activated foaming agents, is printed and then heated to expand in a controlled way to up to seven times its original size for closed-cell foam products. Potential applications include furnishings, footwear, sporting goods, and healthcare products, as well as automotive, where it can contribute to lightweight seating.
“If the seats are up to 50 to 80 percent lighter, depending on the design, just imagine what this change could make in the millions and millions of cars that are traveling our roadways,” Webster said. “This doesn’t matter if you only do it in 10 cars or 100 cars. But if you do it in millions of cars, we start to talk about additive really reshaping our world.”
FreeFoam is at least the second new material offered by Desktop Metal that was developed by Adaptive 3D. Another is DuraChain, a category of two-in-one photopolymers that phase separate at the nano level into a material that cures into a resilient, high-performance network while eliminating the need for a two-part resin.
In September 2021, Desktop Metal acquired Italian hydraulics and fluid power manufacturer Aidro srl. Aidro employed designs for AM featuring parts consolidation, lightweighting, and new geometries for inventory that had been made the same way for 70 years.
“At that time, there was no other company (in Italy) in the hydraulics or fluid power sector already using AM,” said Valeria Tirelli, who is co-CEO and president of Aidro. “So we were a kind of pioneer.”
AM led to other new developments for Aidro. The company earned AS9100 Certification and subsequently qualified as a supplier of 3D-printed aluminum flight parts to Leonardo Helicopters in June 2022. And, thanks to its AM experience, Aidro worked with a big-name oil and gas company and others for two years to create the procedure for qualifying 3D-printed parts in that sector. The Milan-based company is also working on digital inventories for oil and gas companies to replace warehouses of parts, a costly endeavor used in case spares will be needed.
“More than 50 percent of these parts will never be used,” she noted.
Aidro’s success with 3D printing has Tirelli thinking about automation, too. The opportunities she sees are for automated handling of the metal powders used to make parts and for post-process de-powdering of finished items.
Automation is also on Desktop Metal’s agenda.
“Yes, we have envisioned robots being part of the de-powdering process for serial production,” said Webster. “But there are other types of automation for de-powdering—vacuums, cyclones—there’s a lot of things that have been explored for removing powder in an automated way.”
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