Desktop Metal, an additive manufacturing (AM) startup founded in 2015 out of Burlington Massachusetts, made waves this summer after landing $115 million in its latest round of funding, bringing its total funding to $212 million. The company has received support from several high-profile technology leaders including Google, GE Ventures, and BMW, who have been rightfully impressed by the unique approach to metal AM that can achieve 500 cubic inches of metal printed per hour. To put this in perspective, Desktop Metal estimates that its newest system can print at 100-times the speed of its competitors while maintaining equivalent part quality.
At a glance the manufacturing method is remarkably similar to the HP Multi Jet Fusion technology that I reviewed in a recent blog. It is essentially a hyper efficient binder jetting process. Instead of employing separate powder spreading and printing operations, the powder spreaders are incorporated into the moving print-head assembly. In addition to printing a binding agent, the system also prints anti-sintering agents, which allow easy removal of support structures, saving significant time during post processing. The printing process is followed by an advanced sintering process which combines both conventional and microwave heating using closed loop feedback controls tuned to the specific build profile.
Desktop Metal draws from decades of combined material science and mechanical engineering experience of its founders, four of whom have served or continue to serve as MIT professors, to extend the range of materials available for printing. Its website lists over thirty materials, seven of which are considered “core”, having proven material properties and printing profiles, with the remaining materials currently in development. In addition, the company claims over 200 more alloys, which are already commercially available for metal injection molding (MIM), are compatible with the system, but have yet to be rigorously studied. By engineering its system to use standard MIM materials, Desktop Metals allows its customers to source material from an established market, which greatly reduces cost.
Currently Desktop Metals manufactures and sells a desktop printer, the Studio, for $120,000 or $3,250/month as part of a hardware as a service option. The company is accepting reservations for the larger Production System with a starting price of $360,000 – which is on the low end of industrial grade metal additive manufacturing systems. With the substantial improvement in cycle time, Desktop Metal calculates its Production System to be commercially competitive with casting processes for volumes less than 100,000, a considerable leap ahead of typical laser sintering AM methods. While that may not be enough to displace standard processes in high volume industries like automotive, I expect it will result in a large increase in Metal AM contract manufacturers.