Apr 25, 2017

Google-backed startup unveils 3D metal printing system

Desktop Metal on Tuesday morning will unveil its 3D metal printing system, which it believes will revolutionize the way metal components are designed and produced for automakers and a variety of other industries. Axios got a sneak peak yesterday:

Opportunity: The Massachusetts-based company estimates that the top ten global manufacturers produce around $1 trillion of metal parts annually, but just $1 billion of that is done via 3D printing. Co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop argues that existing technology is too expensive (machines can cost $1 million), too big (think 1970s computers) and too dangerous (workers often need to wear special breaching apparatus) because of fumes.

Basics: The company is building two different systems:

  • Studio: This is for engineers who want to prototype metal parts, and will begin shipping in September. They basically upload the desired designs, insert a cartridge of metal powder (which DM will sell, beginning with around 20 types) and then watch the part get built layer-by-layer. They then put the finished product into a microwave-based furnace box. One big technical advantage over other 3D metal printers is that the "supports" holding the parts in place just essentially disintegrate into sand, rather than need to be unbolted. No personal safety equipment is required, and Desktop Metal will sell either the entire system for $120k or $3,250 per month as a sort of subscription service with no money down (neither charge includes the cost of metal powder cartridges).
  • Production system: This one is slated for release in mid-2018, and is basically the mass production printer. The supposed advantages again will be cost (around $360k per machine), speed, size and safety. Plus, parts will be "nested" instead of welded.

Location, location: Desktop Metal is initially building all of its products at its Burlington, Mass. headquarters, but knows it will soon have to outsource production. That said, Fulop wants to keep manufacturing local, saying that Desktop Metal's CTO should be able to drive to the line in case of problems.

DNA: Fulop is the former CEO of lithium battery maker A123, which he helped take public. Other co-founders include Matt Verminski (ex-Kiva Systems, now Amazon Robotics) and MIT professors Ely Sachs and Yet-Ming Chiang. It has raised around $100 million in VC funding from investors like Google Ventures, BMW, General Electric, New Enterprise Associates and Kleiner Perkins.

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