via inhabitat : 3D-metal printing could very easily become the go-to method for manufacturing around the world. Desktop Metal just developed a new metal 3D printer that is reportedly faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems. Indeed, the company claims it can print metal up to 100 times faster than conventional manufacturing techniques with materials that cost 20 times less than existing laser technologies on the market. They also claim they can bring costs down to 10 times lower than normal.
3D printing has been a hot topic for years now, but the Massachusetts company is presenting something new — something capable of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. Because of the new technology’s speed and efficiency, it’s even better than NASA and Boeing’s slow laser-melted metal printer and beats small design studios’ desktop 3D printers. Capable of using a variety of metal options — essentially, anything one can use in a Metal Injection Molding (MIM) system, it stands apart from other competitors.
The engineering-driven startup was founded by several MIT professors and Emanuel Sachs, who holds patents in 3D printing dating back to 1989. Over the last few months, Desktop Metal raised more than $115 million (USD) and received backing from big players, including Google Ventures. Presently, the company is investing efforts in producing two systems: a studio system geared toward developing a rapid, cheap metal prototyping for engineering groups, and a production system for mass manufacture.
According to New Atlas, the Studio printer “runs around and prints parts into layers of bound metal.” Then, the parts go into a “de-binding bath” that separates a substantial portion of the binding polymer. The parts then go into a sintering furnace. When the product is heated to just below the melting point, the binding agent burns off and a highly dense, sintered metal is produced. The system automatically manages the timing and temperature, depending on the design and the metals used. Support sections can be poked out with a screwdriver when the process is completed. Just don’t be surprised when the finished product is 15 percent smaller.
The 3D-metal printer is 10 times cheaper than equivalent laser systems and is also less hazardous. Because there are no metal powders to deal with or dangerous lasers, they can easily — and safely — be installed in a home or office. In addition, it is very low-maintenance and does not require special support equipment or staff. All in all, the entire integrated system and the partnered software cost approximately $120,000 (USD). Though that price might seem steep, an equivalent laser system will run one more than $1 million (USD). And, that doesn’t take into account the safety and materials handling costs.
The mass production system is built for speed and definitely delivers. It is faster than machining, casting, forging or other techniques, and each production printer can produce up to 500 cubic inches of complex parts per hour. As noted above, that is 100 times faster than a laser-based alternative — zero tools required.
To reach production speed with the mass system, a business would need four furnaces per printer. In contrast to the studio printer, the production machine uses powders which are bonded together during printing by spray-jetted droplets of a binder solution. They are low-cost in contrast to other systems (retail is estimated to be $360,000 USD) and are easily available — another advantage to the 3D-metal printing system. In fact, material costs are estimated to be 20 percent lower than other variations. As a result, printed metal parts may finally be economical enough to compete with traditional manufacturing processes.
Though Desktop Metal is just getting started, many are predicting a 3D-metal printing revolution. The effects this technology will have on the economy will be revealed in time.