With yesterday’s day-long online seminar on what the company’s founders have come to define as Additive Manufacturing 2.0, Dekstop Metal officialized the commercialization of its Shop System with clients in North America, EMEA and APAC. Does this mean the much-awaited revolution of metal binder jetting for production is finally here? Probably. Let’s look at the facts.
Founded and backed by superstars in the AM industry, from serial entrepreneur Ric Fulop (who’s had a role in starting Markforged, Onshape and Proto Labs among others), to MIT director of the AM department professor John Hart, to the very inventor of binder jetting, Ely Sachs, Desktop Metal is a company that is full of ideas and also has the ability to communicate them effectively. Even too effectively in some cases. Its first metal 3D printer, the Studio System, which was revolutionary even with all its limitations, was strongly promoted for several months before its commercial availability. But when it did become available, it was immediately shipped in very large numbers worldwide. On the other side of the spectrum, the Production System targets very high-throughput production but that kind of demand may still be a few years away.
The Shop System came to be in order to fit in between these two systems, by offering a fast, metal binder jetting based production solution without the high size and cost requirements of the Production System. It was presented last year and heavily promoted to prepare for today’s official release. Another way to look at it is that most of the first clients have no prior extensive experience with AM (and almost all of them have fax numbers): this means widening the AM market. In fact, some of these companies are very traditional in their product offer: now they see a metal 3D printer built (and advertised) to meet their demands. If Desktop Metal now clearly states that it is now been manufactured in volume and shipped to customers around the world, you can probably believe it.
However, no revolution can be carried out alone. In this sense, the fact that Desktop Metal has competitors who are also targeting metal binder jetting for production is a good thing. Metal binder jetting pioneer ExOne is moving towards production-ready systems with the new X1 160PRO expected to launch between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. HP and GE Additive (among others) are also working on their own solutions. Desktop Metal was the first company to envision the use of metal AM for part production – competing with MIM processes – and is now the first to officially bring a production-targeted product to market. The Additive Manufacturing 2.0 revolution may begin.
Additive Manufacturing 2.0 believers
The list of clients for the Shop System includes manufacturers such as Jade Creaction LDA in Portugal, Wall Colmonoy Limited in the UK, Alpha Precision Group in the USA, E.A.C. in France, and Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) in Hong Kong.
First unveiled last November at the 2019 Formnext trade conference in Frankfurt, Germany, the Shop System is designed to achieve speeds up to 10 times those of metal powder bed fusion additive manufacturing (AM) technologies. Adoption categories can include a variety of high-throughput industries spanning from automotive and oil & gas to consumer products and electronics.
“The Shop System offers the most cost-effective, highest resolution mid-volume production solutions in the industry. Its high-speed, single-pass print engine introduces high-quality binder jetting to an entirely new market of machine shops, casting foundries, and powder metal component suppliers,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal. “With the Shop System, engineers and plant operators can now eliminate many of the constraints previously imposed by traditional manufacturing methods, like CNC machining, and achieve affordable, reliable, and flexible batch production of complex parts.”
With variable build box configurations ranging from 4L, 8L, 12L, and 16L, the Shop System is designed to scale throughput to each shop’s needs. Pricing starts at $166,500 for the 4L printer (350 x 220 x 50mm) and up to $241,500 for the 16L printer (350 x 220 x 200mm). In addition with the Shop System’s end-to-end hardware solution, customers will gain access to Desktop Metal’s Fabricate MFG build preparation software, as well as to the Company’s newly-released Live Sinter application, a sintering process simulation software that corrects for shrinkage and distortion of binder jet 3D printed parts during sintering, minimizing process trial and error while improving accuracy.
The general availability of the Shop System follows Desktop Metal’s recent signing of a definitive business combination agreement with Trine Acquisition Corp. (NYSE: TRNE), to accelerate its go-to-market efforts and further drive its R&D efforts.
Shop-ping for parts
The Shop System was created with the goal of providing reliable production of serial batches of complex, end-use metal parts in a way that is competitive (and even superior) with the time and cost of conventional manufacturing and comparably priced AM technologies. According to Desktop Metal, its print engine is the highest resolution and most advanced in the binder jetting market but it doesn’t stop here. Like the Studio System, Shop System refers to a complete end-to-end solution that includes a single pass, binder jetting printer; a drying oven for hardening green parts prior to depowdering; a powder station for depowdering parts with built-in powder recycling; Desktop Metal’s furnace designed for accessible, industrial-strength sintering; and integrated powder handling accessories and workflow. This turnkey solution together seamlessly integrates with existing shop operations.
The machine is meant to be easy to use and operate, designed with modern machine shops in mind. It does this through an easy-to-use software interface. It also features engineered powders and processing parameters optimized for use with the system to ensure part quality and repeatability.
The high-speed, single-pass print carriage enables speeds up to 800 cc/hour at 75-micron layer thickness, which means it can be used to produce batches of tens or hundreds of complex printed parts in as little as five hours. The most complex part of binder jetting technology, however, is not printing as much as sintering. The fact that sintering takes place in a subsequent phase resolves a lot of issues of laser PBF metal AM, but also opens up a number of other challenges, such as warping and uncontrolled shrinkage and insufficient part density. Desktop Metal addressed these issues through the Live Sinter software and claims that it can now achieve dense, complex parts with fine feature detail and surface finishes as low as four-micron roughness average (Ra) out of the furnace, due to the Shop System’s high-resolution printhead – made possible through droplet sizes as small as 1.2pL, with drop multiplexing up to 6pL.
Ushering in Additive Manufacturing 2.0
As a solution for mid-volume parts production through AM, the Shop System is a critical element of the Additive Manufacturing 2.0 revolution that is reshaping the future of manufacturing. As the emergence of AM 2.0 enables throughput, repeatability, and part costs that can compete with conventional manufacturing processes, the additive manufacturing sector is expected to surge from $12 billion in 2019 to an estimated value of $146 billion by the end of the decade (this figure varies).
“Many of the benefits that have long been touted for 3D printing – mass customization, complex geometries, lightweighting, assembly consolidation, tool-free manufacturing, digital inventories, and more – all come bundled as part of AM 2.0,” said Fulop. “Taken together, this suite of benefits represents a new approach to the way metal parts are being designed, prototyped and now, with the Shop System, manufactured.”