Following a brief introduction to the new Desktop Metal processes and hardware at Rapid + TCT 2017, Disruptive Insight editor Rachel Park set aside some time to speak with Jonah Myerberg, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO). In this role, Jonah is responsible for leading the technical direction of Desktop Metal’s 3D printing solutions and is well-placed to provide key insight on the processes and how they differ from current market offerings.
Disruptive: Congratulations on the launch. You made quite an impact at Rapid + TCT, can you give our readers some insight into the feedback you are getting from the show?
Jonah Myerberg (JM): The feedback we’ve received to the launch of our systems has been overwhelming and positive. There’s a lot of excitement among customers to implement our technology. As you know, we’ve introduced two metal 3D printing systems that change the rules of traditional metal manufacturing, and the feedback we’ve received indicates that our technology addresses a number of legitimate pain points for our customers, while opening up a number of new opportunities for them with metal 3D printing that were previously unavailable.
Disruptive: There is a great deal of interest and excitement around low-cost metal additive manufacturing. Desktop Metal's Studio system has been called ‘a game-changer,’ can you tell us how?
JM: Desktop Metal’s Studio system is the world’s first office-friendly metal 3D printing system. Ten times less expensive than today’s metal 3D printers, it enables engineering teams to produce highly complex metal parts without leaving the office. The Studio system is based on a new approach to metal 3D printing—bound metal deposition (BMD). We eliminated lasers and powders to make metal 3D printing safe for any facility.
The Studio system was designed as a complete workflow. Unlike other systems, there is no third-party equipment or special facilities required, just power and an internet connection. Every stage of the process is fully automated and interconnected, making it simple to go from CAD to part.
Disruptive: Can you explain precisely, for engineers, how parts created using the Studio system that have been through the sintering furnace compare mechanically with parts produced on a powder bed platform? For instance, a lot of people are asking about shrinkage of the green part, tolerances, repeatability, internal lattice structures and material choice.
JM: The Studio system is built to perform, with high-precision hardware to ensure high-quality parts. It produces near-net-shape metal parts, delivering the resolution and accuracy needed for functional prototyping and low-volume production.
In designing the Studio system, we opted for encoded ball screws rather than belts for our motion control system. Combining this with automated bed-leveling and a heated build area, the Studio system printer is able to deliver excellent geometric fidelity and build success. Additionally, closed-loop thermal control enables real-time heating regulation throughout the sintering cycle, ensuring every part is uniformly heated and cooled.
The parts produced by the Studio printer are fully dense, over 99%, but porosity can be engineered into the part if desirable, such as for some medical implants. The microstructure of the metal is perfectly uniform due to the bulk sintering process. This is different from parts produced through powder bed fusion, where wall thicknesses and geometry can change the microstructure of the part.
The green parts produced by the Studio printer utilize Desktop Metal feedstock that has been derived from 40 years of metal injection molding (MIM) technology, so the shrinkage, tolerances and repeatability are very well understood and predictable. Due to the maturity of MIM technology, many hundreds of metal alloys are available to our customers and, thanks to the flexibility of 3D printing, all of these materials can be used to build parts with complex geometry and internal lattice structures.
Disruptive: At launch, you also introduced the Production system, due for commercialization in 2018. Can you provide specific details on how this process compares both with the Studio system and also powder bed fusion systems.
JM: Desktop Metal’s Production system is the fastest metal 3D printing system in the world and is the first metal 3D printing system for mass production of high-resolution parts. It utilizes single pass jetting (SPJ) to deliver the speed, accuracy and per-part cost needed to compete with traditional manufacturing processes.
At up to 100 times the speed of today’s fastest additive systems, the Production system offers improved throughput capabilities of up to 500 cubic inches per hour (versus 1-5 cubic inches per hour for laser-based systems).
For customers, the Production system dramatically reduces the cost-per-part when compared with today’s laser-based systems, for the first time making metal 3D printing competitive with mass production techniques like casting.
The Production printer can nest parts, yielding higher productivity per build. Unlike laser-based processes, which weld parts to a build plate, parts created by the Production system are surrounded by loose powder, enabling the full use of the build envelope and higher productivity per build. Sophisticated software will arrange parts to maximize the build area in all axes.
Both the Studio and Production systems utilize Desktop Metal’s microwave-enhanced furnace to sinter the printed parts.
Disruptive: One of the really disruptive angles with the Studio and Production systems is the reduction in cost per part through the ability to use a wider palette of MIM materials. Can you provide some insight into exactly what materials can be used at launch and what we can expect over the coming months?
JM: We designed the Studio and Production systems around MIM technology and supply chain, providing a superior range of high-quality alloys, while also offering up to 80% cost savings. More than 200 metal alloys are compatible with our systems. We currently have over 30 materials in development, with seven core materials shipping at launch, including several stainless steels, 4140 low-alloy steel, copper, invar, Kovar, Inconel and H-13 tool steel.
MIM offers a huge supply chain and large materials pipeline, enabling customers to prototype with the same materials used for production.
Disruptive: You also used Rapid + TCT to announce your extended partnership with Stratasys for your go-to-market approach, can you expand on the motivation and plans with that?
JM: Our strategic partnership with Stratasys enables us to execute our mission to make metal 3D printing more accessible in engineering and manufacturing. This will be achieved through leveraging Stratasys’s existing network of resellers to broaden market access to our technology. Additionally, this partnership enables Stratasys’s customers to gain access to Desktop Metal’s systems while retaining the service and support they have come to expect.