Metal 3D printing at 100 times the speed and a twentieth of the cost
If the Desktop Metal can pull this off, a revolution is coming
We got to see a number of examples produced by the company – from raw to finished product – and the company estimated it was able to produce them at a rough cost of $5 a part when it would typically cost around $70 using other methods. The system has a maximum resolution of 50um (0.002 inches) so can produce finely designed parts.
There are also specific advantages to using the inkjet method over traditional method: it is possible to create elements with moving parts within them. For example, a pin hinge can be created as a single part with the area around the pin printed with wax. When heated, the wax will evaporate leaving the hinge free to rotate.
With some smart engineering, it becomes possible to replace dozens or even hundreds of parts – as well as all the subsequent assembly that comes with those parts. CEO of Desktop Metal Ric Fulop gave an example of a complex part of a private jet in which engineers were able to reduce the number of components from over 150 to just 12.
That simplification could have a rolling knock-on impact where the weight of a part can be reduced, meaning that other supporting parts don't need to be as large or heavy, further reducing load and weight, and so on.
The ability to create extremely complex parts at low cost also opens up the possibilities when it comes to parts designed by machines using artificial intelligence: seemingly bizarre structures that would be unlikely to be imagined by human engineers but could be designed and tested by a computer that only considers and accounts for stresses and essential structural elements.
There are also other potential cost savings: Desktop Metal claims its system can be introduced into a normal workplace and not require specific elements like venting fans or special safety equipment or trained operators. And if companies set up machines in different countries, they would be able to print the exact same part – by sending electronic files – all over the world and so avoid hefty import tariffs, as well as reduce the time it takes to get parts to specific locations.
Many of those benefits will likely come with the company 2018 release of its production machine, although the Studio System should serve as evidence that the new approach works for low-volume production.
The system is not perfected – as indicated by the fact that the company notes it has a "select group of strategic customers" that will be serve as "early stage evaluators" providing feedback on "benchmark parts, materials, training and system usage."
The claimed massive reductions in cost and huge ramp-up in speed are co-dependent: the cost saving will only come if the company can hit its production speed goals. But caveats aside, investors including BMW and Google are excited about the potential and the company is confident it can turn the market upside down if it gets it right.
"Our vision is to make Desktop Metal 3D printing solutions accessible to engineers and manufacturers around the world," said Fulop before pointing to pretty much every small metal object in the room and explaining why it would have been easier and cheaper to have printed it using his company's 3D inkjet technology.
Pre-orders of the Studio unit are available for those in Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. ®