»We want to match the traditional technologies«
Text: Thomas Masuch; Photos: Desktop Metal
Desktop Metal was one of the most colorful young businesses to participate at formnext 2017. Equipped with the expertise of numerous MIT professors and €200 million in investments, the budding systems manufacturer, located close to Boston, Massachusetts, had already promised a small revolution in the additive manufacturing of metal parts prior to the exhibition. With the Production System, they aim to be 100 times faster at metal printing than laser-based systems. This led to many interested visitors flocking to their booth. We spoke to Jonah Myerberg, CTO and Co-Founder, about Desktop Metal’s strategy for the future.
Mr Myerberg, Desktop Metal has promised a lot over the past few months. What’s the latest?
MYERBERG: We’re in beta development at the moment and are working with quite a few »pioneer customers«. Our prototypes are currently located at the factory in Boston and are manufacturing customer applications. With around 100 employees, we are working on designing and finetuning the systems for series production. At present we’re also making developments in reliability, holistic automation, and powder recycling.
How will sales be organized?
MYERBERG: We're currently developing the sales organization for our Studio System, and we’ll then use the structures for the Production System too. We’re already taking preorders. In Europe, for example, we are selling through renowned sales partners, such as alphacam, Tri-Tech 3D, and others. To further reinforce our connections with the German automotive industry, we’ve also opened our European headquarters in Munich. We’re planning to ship the series systems from 2019.
For us it’s mainly about efficient production, though. [...] Added value is also attainable in production.
Why exactly is the focus on Germany?
MYERBERG: At formnext we found that there's enormous potential for our technology and applications in Germany. We made many great contacts in the user industry here. Germany is key for us since it's the most important market for metal injection molding (MIM).
What customers, applications, and volumes benefit from the system?
MYERBERG: With the Production System we are mainly targeting the automotive industry. BMW is one of our selected strategic partners and is already using the Studio System with us. The Production System is worth it for volumes of one unit to several hundred thousand units. Conventional metal injection molding requires very high starting investments of over €100,000 and is therefore only worth it with very high volumes. We are filling in a niche and enabling users to find new partners and customers.
Additive metal manufacturing had generally been very costly until now. Therefore it’s been important with most of the current applications to create added value.
MYERBERG: Added value is the icing on the cake. For us it’s mainly about efficient production, though. We want to match the traditional technologies. Added value doesn’t always have to come from a component. It’s also attainable in production, for instance by economizing on material. Binder jetting technology has been on the market for many years, already.
So far, the technology has not been completely successful, as it sometimes required the use of additional metal or the components are very porous after sintering. What is Desktop Metal doing differently now? What will be the density of the components?
MYERBERG: While binder jetting technology has been around for many years, Desktop Metal’s Production System is based on a new approach to metal 3D printing – Single Pass Jetting. Created by the inventors of both the binder jetting (Ely Sachs one of our co-founders) and the single pass inkjet (Paul Hoisington, also with Desktop Metal) processes, single pass jetting builds metal parts in minutes instead of hours, making it ideal for the production of complex, high-performance metal parts at high volumes. Since no tooling is needed, it can outperform traditional manufacturing processes like casting while adding major benefits of AM like just-in-time production and mass customization. In addition, we designed our systems to use MIM materials, which enables an ecosystem of high-quality alloys with the well studied process controls of metal injection molding. We do not infiltrate, we sinter to high density like MIM and other PM parts.
Based on Single Pass Jetting (SPJ) technology, Desktop Metal promises very fast production of metal components with the Production System. The system has a work area of 330 x 330 x 300 mm and »prints« both powder and a binding material in thin layers. According to Desktop Metal, it reaches a production speed of up to 8,200 cm³ per hour. The parts then need to be chemically »debound« and sintered in an oven.