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A Revolutionary New Way to Manufacture Metal Parts

Markforged’s Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) process for printing metal unlocks a new era of metal parts production. 3D metal print-farms will shorten development time, closing the gap between prototyping and production.

Photo of DEC PDP-7 introduced, 1965

DEC PDP-7 introduced, 1965

Today’s metal 3D printers are the mainframe computers of manufacturing. They are large, slow, and expensive ($500k-1M). In the same way mainframes were disrupted by cloud data centres, large-format metal printers will be replaced by smaller, low cost machines working in parallel – print-farms.

The Keys to 3D Metal Print-Farms

ADAM (Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing)
An end-to-end process that fundamentally scales down in cost, built on Markforged’s existing reinforced extrusion technology.

3D Print-Farm Platform
High-precision, low cost, printer instances enabled through smart sensors.

Fleet management software
Enterprise grade software which can optimise workflows, provide predictive analytics, connect, monitor, and report results across a fleet of connected printers.

Greg Mark, the CEO of Markforged, says they are working to push each technology front forward with the goal of unlocking printed metal production at scale within two years.

Photo of Google data centre, 2015

Google data centre, 2015

Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing

ADAM is an end-to-end process that starts with metal powder, captures it in a plastic binder (which makes it safe to handle), and then forms it into the part shape one layer at a time. After printing you sinter the part in a furnace, burning off the binder and solidifying the powder into the final fully-dense metal part.

Printing the Form

The part creation process builds on Markforged’s existing carbon fibre reinforced extrusion technology –“ where micro strands of carbon fibre are bound in plastic. In the case of ADAM printing, 60% metal powder is substituted in place of the carbon fibre. The Metal X is the first step down the print-farm path – an industrial quality ADAM machine built on Markforged’s 4th generation printing platform. This printer will solve the hard problems –“ machine reliability, surface finish, final-part dimensional accuracy, and repeatability. Its designed from the ground up to reliably shape beautiful metal parts. The next step is to work down the cost curve, leveraging their existing industrial desktop printers ($3,499) with a two-year target of print-farms of sub-$1K printer instances.

Thermal Sintering

Thermally sintering parts is well-established in the Metal Injection Molding (MIM) industry to create end-use parts for medical, aerospace, and consumer applications. The sintering step burns off the plastic binder and causes the metal powder to diffuse together into 99.7% dense metal. Sintering furnaces start under $30K and process parts into their finished state overnight. A full stack production furnace runs $800k and is designed to keep up with an injection mould –“ so it can handle the part output of a 500-1000 unit print-farm.

Photo of 17-4 Stainless steel sprocket – 1375°C peak furnace temperature; 90 minutes cycle time

17-4 Stainless steel sprocket – 1375°C peak furnace temperature; 90 minutes cycle time

Microwave Sintering

For quick turnaround prototypes, microwave sintering provides the ability to produce pure metal parts within hours. Solid metal reflects microwave radiation at room temperature; however, powdered metal absorbs microwaves and converts their energy into heat. Once the powder reaches its sintering temperature, it fuses. At these high temperatures, even solid metal absorbs microwave energy, and the sintering process can complete the ramp to full temperature. In house, Markforged has been microwaving ADAM parts with a 90 minute cycle time.

Materials

ADAM leverages well known MIM materials that are used in demanding, end-use applications. Best of all, the process supports hundreds of metals. 17-4 Stainless Steel is the first material Markforged will ship, but many others are in beta testing including Tool Steels, Titanium, Aluminium, and Inconel.

Software

Markforged have spent the last four years building out a comprehensive cloud-based fleet management solution called Eiger. There are thousands of Markforged printers churning out parts all over the world –“ all running with full telemetry, error monitoring, feedback, and analytics. Think of it like a distributed print-farm. At Markforged, they run over 100 printers in parallel. Half are dedicated to producing parts for developing their new printers; 30 run long-term cycle testing; and 20 are used in operations to manufacture sample parts –“ about 6.5k parts per month.

Photo of Metal X sample parts, 2017

Metal X sample parts, 2017

Bringing Manufacturing into the Digital Age

Humans have been pouring metal into moulds for five thousand years. Now we have a better way. In the next two years Markforged will achieve the technological leap to true digital metal manufacturing. The digital age transformed every other industry known to man–“ music, photography, writing, telecom, email, the internet. But manufacturing is largely the same as it was in the 50™s. It’™s time for mechanical engineering to enter the digital age.

Article source: Greg Mark, CEO, Markforged

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