As time goes by, metal 3D printing is becoming more and more accessible. However, challenges remain. Until recently, metal 3D printers were large, slow, and expensive industrial machines, far too costly to be widely adopted. Developing a powerful yet cost-efficient metal 3D printer is likely to be the key to success and what ultimately drives the additive manufacturing revolution. Unsurprisingly, startups and their entrepreneurial spirit are shaking things up.
In recent years, several entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley have turned their attention to the metal 3D printing space, a testament to this sector’s potential. Companies such a Desktop Metal and MarkForged launched in stealth mode, raising substantial amounts of venture capital. In a few years, they have been able to develop proprietary metal AM (additive manufacturing) technologies and are ready to disrupt this space, giving companies such as SLM Solutions and Arcam a run for their money.
Here are some of the hottest startups shaking things up in metal 3D printing.
- Founded in 2014 by Benny Buller and Erel Milshtein, Velo3D develops and markets end-to-end solutions for metal additive manufacturing. They have raised 22 million USD to date.
- This American startup’s latest release, the high volume metal 3D printer Sapphire, is designed for production series. They have developed what they have dubbed Intelligent Fusion, a proprietary technology, to free the conventional laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) from design constraints thanks to process simulation, prediction, and closed-loop control.
- The Sapphire features Intelligent Fusion that enables 3D printing complex geometries and overhangs.
- Available metal 3D printing powders include IN718 and Ti6Al4V.
- Price: TBD
- Desktop Metal was founded in 2015 by an ace team of 7, including Ely Sachs, the inventor of binder jet printing. They have raised an impressive 276 million USD to date.
- Based in Burlington Massachusetts, Desktop Metal aims to reinvent “the way engineering and manufacturing teams produce metal parts – from prototyping through mass production.” Desktop Metal’s proprietary technology, Single Pass Jetting (SPJ), is a 3D printing process that delivers 3D printing speeds of up to 8,200 cm3/hr.
- Desktop Metal commercializes two-star products: the Studio and the Production.
- The Studio’s $120,000 price tag makes it affordable for small and medium-sized businesses that frequently need high-quality metal prototypes.
- Price: $120,000
- Desktop Metal’s Production presents an interesting and unique technology that Desktop Metal calls Single Pass Jetting (SPJ). Thanks to this metal 3D printing technology, the Production system is able to produce high quantities of metal parts.
- Price: $420,000
- Launched in 2013, Gregory Mark founded MarkForged based on the belief that there is a better way to make things. They have raised 54 million USD to date.
- There was some legal drama between MarkForged and Desktop Metal; however, the allegations of patent infringement were cleared and MarkForged is now in the clear. The startup has developed a proprietary technology called ADAM (Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing). Based on extrusion tech, they create 3D parts using a bound metal powder rod embedded inside a plastic filament. A heating module allows the removal of the plastic and the sintering of the metal powder into a strong and dense part.
The Metal X
- The MarkForged Metal X is a professional metal 3D printer with an integrated 3D scanning unit capable of reaching 1-micron measurement accuracy and 50-micron 3D scanning resolution to ensure quality control.
- Price: $99,500
- Scott and Zachary Vader fathered Vader Systems in 2013 with the aim of developing the world’s first commercial liquid metal 3D printer. It has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to date.
- Vader Systems’ proprietary technology, named Magnet-o-Jet, melts metal wire at 1200°C in a ceramic chamber. Electromagnetic fields then jet the liquid metal layer by layer.
- The Polaris is an industrial metal 3D printer. Thanks to its liquid metal 3D printing technology, the Polaris is able to 3D print aluminum and alloys as well as bronze and copper.
- Price: TBC
In barely 5 years, these startups have managed to radically change the metal 3D printing landscape. While a lot of work remains to be done, the future is looking bright. Next challenge: certification!