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A revolutionary new way to manufacture metal parts

Supplier: Markforged By: Greg Mark
15 February, 2018

Today’s metal 3D printers are the mainframe computers of manufacturing.

They are large, slow, and expensive ($500k -1M). In the same way mainframes were disrupted by cloud data centers, large-format metal printers will be replaced by smaller, low cost machines working in parallel - print-farms. Markforged’s Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) process for printing metal unlocks a new era of metal parts production. 3D metal print-farms will shorten development time, closing the gap between prototyping and production.

The Keys to 3D Metal Print-Farms

  1. ADAM (atomic diffusion additive manufacturing) An end-to-end process that fundamentally scales down in cost, built on our existing reinforced extrusion technology
  2. 3D Print-farm Platform
    High-precision, low cost, printer instances enabled through smart sensors
  3. Fleet Management Software
    Enterprise grade software which can optimize workflows, provide predictive analytics, connect, monitor, and report results across a fleet of connected printers.

At Markforged we are working to push each technology front forward with the goal of unlocking printed metal production at scale within 2 years.

Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing

ADAM is an end-to-end process that starts with metal powder, captures it in a plastic binder (which makes it safe to handle), and then forms it into the part shape one layer at a time. After printing you sinter the part in a furnace, burning off the binder and solidifying the powder into the final fully-dense metal part.

Printing the Form

The part creation process builds on our existing carbon fiber reinforced extrusion technology - where micro strands of carbon fiber are bound in plastic. In the case of ADAM printing, 60% metal powder is substituted in place of the carbon fiber. The Metal X is the first step down the print-farm path - an industrial quality ADAM machine built on our 4th generation printing platform. This printer will solve the hard problems - machine reliability, surface finish, final-part dimensional accuracy, and repeatability. Its designed from the ground up to reliably shape beautiful metal parts.

Thermal Sintering

Thermally sintering parts is well-established in the Metal Injection Molding (MIM) industry to create end-use parts for medical, aerospace, and consumer applications. The sintering step burns off the plastic binder and causes the metal powder to diffuse together into 99.7% dense metal. Sintering furnaces start under $30K and process parts into their finished state overnight. A full stack production furnace runs $800k and is designed to keep up with an injection mold - so it can handle the part output of a 500-1000 unit print-farm.

Materials

ADAM leverages well known MIM materials that are used in demanding, end-use applications. Best of all, the process supports hundreds of metals. 17-4 Stainless Steel is the first material we will ship, but many others are in beta testing including Tool Steels, Titanium, Aluminum, and Inconel.

Software

We have spent the last 4 years building out a comprehensive cloud-based fleet management solution called Eiger. There are thousands of Markforged printers churning out parts all over the world - all running with full telemetry, error monitoring, feedback, and analytics. Think of it like a distributed print farm. At Markforged, we run over 100 printers in parallel. Half are dedicated to producing parts for developing our new printers. 30 run long-term cycle testing, and 20 are used in operations to manufacture sample parts - about 6.5k parts per month.

Bringing Manufacturing into the Digital Age

Humans have been pouring metal into molds for five thousand years. Now we have a better way. In the next 2 years Markforged will achieve the technological leap to true digital metal manufacturing. The digital age transformed every other industry known to man – music, photography, writing, telecom, email, the internet. But manufacturing is largely the same as it was in the 50’s. It’s time for mechanical engineering to enter the digital age.