Markforged Releases $3,499 Chopped Carbon 3D Printer
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on November 17, 2016 |

When Markforged initially released the Mark One, not only did the start-up bring to market a completely novel technology, continuous filament fabrication (CFF), but it did so at a pretty accessible price, given the capabilities of CFF. At just above $5,000, the printer made it suddenly possible for businesses to begin prototyping and producing carbon fiber reinforced parts on demand—something never before possible.

Since then, Markforged has upgraded its system and even released a larger and more precise CFF system with built-in quality control, another new feat in the world of 3D printing and manufacturing. Just as it has improved its technology, the start-up is now increasing accessibility to carbon fiber manufacturing, this time with two more affordable 3D printers called the Onyx One and the Onyx Pro.

Coinciding with the formnext trade show, Markforged announced the release of two new systems that, while possibly not as capable as the Mark Two and Mark X 3D printers, are less expensive and provide an entry point into the world of carbon fiber 3D printing. At $3,499, the Onyx One does not lay down continuous carbon fiber, but 3D prints chopped carbon fiber filament with the same precision as the other Markforged systems. ENGINEERING.com spoke with Cynthia Gumbert, vice president of Marketing for Markforged, to learn more.

Onyx

Earlier this year, Markforged released a new chopped carbon fiber composite filament dubbed Onyx. The material is made up of chopped carbon fiber embedded in a nylon matrix. As a result, Onyx is 3.5 times stiffer than nylon alone, but maintains the toughness and wear resistance associated with nylon.

Due to its heat resistance, Onyx parts can be used in automotive applications. Though not placed directly in an engine, they can be used in proximity to one, such as with this impeller. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
Due to its heat resistance, Onyx parts can be used in automotive applications. Though not placed directly in an engine, they can be used in proximity to one, such as with this impeller. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

Markforged describes Onyx as having great dimensional stability and a heat deflection temperature of 145 °C. This also makes it possible to 3D print objects with larger, steeper overhangs, as the material is less likely to drip. In addition to the precision associated with Markforged’s printers, this makes it possible to create parts that even more accurately resemble the CAD models on which they’re based. Onyx also has a matte black finish that Markforged claims requires little post-processing.

Onyx One

The Onyx One has the same design as the Mark Two 3D printer, but without the ability to lay down continuous strands of reinforcement fiber. Whereas the Mark Two can print such materials as carbon fiber, fiberglass and Kevlar within an Onyx part, the Onyx One 3D printer is only meant to 3D print with Onyx material.

Gumbert explained the rationale for launching the Onyx One, “What we’ve done is that we looked at the popularity of our Onyx material that we launched back in June and decided that we were going to make that our core material across our entire product line. There’s also a price point demand for printers under the $4,000 range, so we packaged the Onyx One as an Onyx-only, plastics-only printer at $3,499, making it the first really accessible Markforged printer.”

The new Onyx One 3D printer, which is capable of 3D printing Markforged’s Onyx material. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
The new Onyx One 3D printer, which is capable of 3D printing Markforged’s Onyx material. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

When asked whether or not the Onyx One could 3D print other materials, Gumbert said that users are likely to try third-party filaments, but that the machine was designed specifically for Onyx 3D printing. More importantly, the extrusion printhead for the Onyx One, as well as the other machines in the Markforged line, is engineered in such a way as to withstand extended use with abrasive chopped carbon filament.

“The chopped carbon filament available out there on the market is kind of known to be abrasive,” Gumbert said. “It doesn’t work really well with any other printer. We’ve designed this printhead to withstand the abrasiveness of the chopped filament really, really well. It’s been in non-stop testing over the past four months. We’ve had three or four of these printing non-stop to make sure the durability is really good.”

While it may not be meant for use with materials other than Onyx, Gumbert pointed out that the Onyx One 3D printer has a price point competitive with similar desktop 3D printers on the market that may not be able to handle chopped carbon fiber as well.

Carbon Fiber Upgrades

Released simultaneously with the Onyx One is the Onyx Pro—essentially the same as the baseline Onyx with one major difference: it can 3D print fiberglass. At $7,000, the Onyx Pro features two printheads, one solely for Onyx and the other for continuous fiberglass reinforcement. This makes it possible to 3D print parts that are five times stronger than pure Onyx prints.

A soft jaw from Onyx Pro with continuous fiberglass reinforcement. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
A soft jaw from Onyx Pro with continuous fiberglass reinforcement. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

Buyers seeking much stronger parts can step up to the new Onyx Pro, which features a second printhead and continuous fiberglass reinforcement. At a $7,000 price point (8,000 euros) the Onyx Pro prints composites reinforced with continuous fiberglass for 5 times the strength of Onyx alone.

Tesla turbine from Onyx Pro—reinforced with fiberglass. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
Tesla turbine from Onyx Pro—reinforced with fiberglass. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

It’s also possible for customers to upgrade the system once they’ve used the Onyx for some time. Greg Mark, CEO of Markforged, explained in a press release, “Buyers of the Onyx One can upgrade their printer in the field to an Onyx Pro when they’re ready for the extra advanced fiberglass composite parts. We purposefully designed the entry point Onyx One with an easy path to higher strength for our customers without requiring them to purchase a different printer.”

A strength and price comparison of Markforged 3D printers. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
A strength and price comparison of Markforged 3D printers. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

Then, once they’re ready for even greater strength, customers can trade in either the Onyx One or Onyx Pro for the Mark Two, Markforged’s flagship CFF 3D printer, adding continuous carbon fiber, impact-resistant Kevlar and high-strength, high temperature fiberglass to the list of reinforcement materials available. 

The next printer up is the Mark X, which jumps up to $69,000 in price due the fact that it is not just larger than the Mark Two, but also includes in-process part inspection using a laser micrometer. While this tool currently makes it possible to perform manual quality control checks, it’s highly likely that in-process quality control will be automated in the future. 

The strength of various materials possible with each printer in the Markforged series. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)
The strength of various materials possible with each printer in the Markforged series. (Image courtesy of Markforged.)

It’s also worth mentioning that Markforged is currently testing a “Turbo Print” speed mode, which was announced during the launch of the Onyx Series. “This is in beta, but ‘Turbo Print’ mode will speed up the print time with very little impact to the quality of the part. There’s no impact to surface finish, but a little bit less strength,” Gumbert explained.

Gumbert said that the Onyx Series is immediately available for purchase with shipping in North America taking place in two weeks. Shipments to the rest of the world will begin in Q1 2017. To learn more about the new Onyx Series, visit the Markforged website here.

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