Video: Atomic Diffusion Metal Additive Manufacturing - Factory Applications
James Anderton posted on May 24, 2018 |
Markforged's Trak Lord describes the role of their new Metal X printer.

James Anderton: High strength with light weight has always been the promise of metal additive manufacturing. I’m with Trak Lord, director of communications at Markforged. Trak, I understand you have a new machine?

Trak Lord: Yes, that's true! We have the Markforged Metal X 3D printing system. It was announced about a year ago, but last week we started shipping them. We recently completed our first installation at a company called Stanley Infrastructure, which is a division of Stanley Black & Decker, the global tooling and industrial company. The great thing about the Metal X, and one of the things we strove for, is the ability to print strong parts, same-day, faster and less expensive than traditional 3D metal printing systems, and we're so happy that we've achieved that.

A part, produced on the Metal X, as shown in the video.

A part, produced on the Metal X, as shown in the video.

TL: Here we have a couple of parts just to show you. This is a part that is completed after the sintering process, and this is the part that comes out of the wash and that is absolutely no post-production. Also, what we have here, and one of the reasons that we can print parts that are up to 50% lighter than, for instance, cast iron; we have the ability to do captive infills in the 3D printing system which is an equilateral mesh inside the part. This can make the part half as light without sacrificing any vital strength characteristics that you would need for functional end use.

TL: The thing with metal is that there's a demand for it in the sense of customers need to be able to do it quickly, they need to be able to do it on-premises, safely. There's also that kind of accessibility. If you look at pretty much any industry, especially software, one of the things that has led to an explosion in software innovation is reducing the barriers to entry. That can be cost, that can be time to market, that can be reducing the time between iteration cycles. At Markforged, we brought that kind of spirit to hardware. What if you could iterate on Hardware the way that web designers and web developers and app developers iterate software in production? Being able to have an idea, print it, have it same day, and if you don't like it then you can just go and print it again. We’re talking about taking an iteration cycle from months to a matter of weeks.

TL: We’ve been pouring metal into things for thousands of years.  I'm sure you're familiar with Tesla. I'm sure you're familiar with Ford.  You know how long it took Henry Ford to bring the first car to market?

TL: Five years.

TL: Do you know how long it took Elon Musk to bring the first Tesla to market?

TL: Five years.

TL: So somehow, despite a century of innovation in nearly every other technological thing that we interface with as humans, we are still in the same production cycle as people that were operating, you know, with just an assembly line.

TL: That says to me that that this entire industry is ripe for some sort of disruption. We want this as a society. We want the ability to produce faster, we want the ability to take ideas and bring them to life, bring them into products faster than ever before. That accessibility element is also time and cost. Now, you can take a part to a machine shop and get it in aluminum, but it's going to take you four to six weeks and it's going to cost you, according to our research, an average of one thousand dollars per part versus this, printed practically overnight, and costing you around $40.

TL: To some degree, we envision a future of manufacturing where every element of your factory line is touched in some way by 3D printing. So, you have the initial prototyping, then you have the tooling and fixtures, but then once you get to the assembly line it's not a big secret that a lot of assembly lines have large robotic arms. So those robots have fingers, or effectors (the industry term). When those things break you can't do anything. So, if you have to wait four to six months, or if you're out of inventory for that part, the factory shuts down, which can cost millions of dollars practically overnight. Being able to either front load or to react and be able to print that part and have those effectors the next day is a huge shift in being able to maintain your operations.

JA: So, the Metal X is a production machine? Could we see this being used in a laboratory, or maintenance shop for replacement parts?

TL: I think the Metal X definitely belongs in a manufacturing facility, near the factory line. You’re probably not going to mass-produce anything, honestly, with maybe any 3D printer, but the purpose of machines, like the Metal X and our other lines like the X7 in the mark 2 that prints carbon fiber, the purpose of these is to be able to have these high-value, often complex parts, often oddly shaped, to be able to have them instantly and at a cost that allows you to iterate many times. Being able to replace heavy parts and heavy machinery, such as actuators and drive shafts. If you look over here we have examples of motorcycle parts, automotive pistons, these kinds of things that you may not need 40,000 of. You may just need one—but it's the one part that you do need in order to keep your factory running.

JA: Well, with the Metal X, Trak Lord of Markforged says, “iterate your way to high-strength, low-cost metal additive parts.”

For more on metal additive manufacturing, check out Video: Arcam EBM Spectra H Machine Uses Electron Beam Melting Technology.

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