3-D printing is no longer a new technology. Several design studios use it, along with some home users who make their products using 3-D printers. However, the general opinion is it is expensive, slow, and unable to compete with traditional mass-manufacturing processes. Although considered a revolutionary technology, so far, 3-D printing has remained on the periphery.
Now, a Massachusetts company is trying to prove the general opinion wrong. Desktop Metal is coming out with a 3-D metal printing system so fast, safe, and cheaper than any existing system, they claim it will compete directly with the traditional methods of mass manufacturing. In their Studio System, Desktop Metal presented an office-friendly, fully automated sintering furnace that had fast cycle times and a peak temperature of 1400°C. This allowed it to sinter a wide variety of materials.
On one hand, home users and design studios can afford only cheap ABS plastic printing materials on their desktop printers. On the other, organizations such as Boeing and NASA are going for laser-melted metal printing. Overall, the entire process of 3-D printing is very slow, expensive, and unable to scale up or scale down.
Desktop Metal, out of Massachusetts, is headed by a team among who are some that had first thought of additive manufacturing. They claim to have the right technology and machinery that is going to give the necessary impetus to 3-D printing to make it into big time.
Desktop Metal is claiming it can make metal printing reliable and up to 100 times faster than existing speeds and at 10 times cheaper initial costs. By using a much wider range of alloys, they claim they will incur 20 times cheaper material costs compared to the existing laser technologies. In fact, their machines may be the precursors for large-scale 3-D manufacturing.
In reality, Desktop Metal is presenting two systems. One of them is the Studio System and the other a production system. While the production system is meant for mass manufacturers, the studio system offers rapid, cheap metal prototyping aimed towards engineering groups.
The Studio System from Desktop Metal costs ten times lower than its equivalent laser system. It is also many times more safe and practical to keep in an office. Unlike the laser system, the Studio System does not use hazardous metal powders that are sometimes explosive or dangerous lasers. The Studio System may be placed anywhere in the office, as it does not require specialized ventilation installation, nor does it require operators wearing gas masks.
The metals offered by Desktop Metal are usually in rod form, bound with polymer binding agents, and shipped in cartridges. However, almost anything usable in a Metal Injection Molding system is acceptable to the Studio System. That means a wide variety of metal options including aluminum, bronze, copper, a range of stainless steels, 4140 chromoly steel, titanium, Hiperco 50 magnetic, and more than two hundred other alloys.
When running, the printer prints layers of bound metal parts. These have to go through a de-binding bath to remove most of the binding polymer. The parts can then go into the sintering furnace.