Today’s part of the week is a common demonstration sample from the Desktop Metal Studio System provided by Desktop Metal. I normally like to focus on real customer example parts like in my previous posts, but the Desktop Metal solutions are so new (only a handful of BETA systems have shipped) that we do not have any customer samples that we are allowed to share. That being said, there are some key differentiating capabilities that this particular sample illustrates nicely. Here are 5 key items that differentiate the Desktop Metal Studio solution from the others.
1. Desktop Metal Studio leverages a “marriage” between Metal Injection Molding (MIM) and FDM 3D Printing
As a basis for understanding Desktop Metal’s innovation, it is important to understand that it is really a disruption in the Metal Injection Molding (MIM) process. The founders of Desktop Metal have successfully eliminated tooling from the metal injection molding process by integrating FDM 3D Printing into the front end of the MIM process. What once was reserved for high volumes and relatively small parts has now been opened up to one-off custom parts and prototype development in metal. The marriage between MIM and 3D printing is a powerful combination that compliments the strengths and mitigates the limitations of each technology effectively.
2. Desktop Metal Studio offers a new level of accessibility
One of the most challenging barriers to metal 3D printing technologies has been accessibility due to the high cost of the powder bed laser solutions (DMLS) in addition to the necessary facilities and HR requirements. In working with the plastic 3D printers over the past 20 years, we have found that convenient, direct access to the technology is really the only way for users to gain the full benefits of the technology. The majority of the “magic” around 3D printing is in using the technology BEFORE a user would normally send out for parts to be made with traditional methods or through 3D printing service bureaus. The “why” and the “when” someone uses 3D printing to solve manufacturing problems or evaluate a design decision is dramatically affected by the degree of direct access the user has to the technology.
The Desktop Metal Studio system has been developed with decreased barriers of entry regarding the acquisition price as well as site and user requirements compared to traditional CNC or metal additive manufacturing systems (DMLS). The Desktop Metal Studio System can be used in a lab or potentially in an office with a lower level of site requirements than current metal technologies. Most importantly, Desktop Metal has developed the hardware (printer, de-binder and furnace) in conjunction with a powerful software that is used throughout each stage of the process. This instills a high level of convenience for the user, which is intended to increase the ability for companies to gain direct access to the technology.
3. Desktop Metal Studio offers increased range of materials
One of the most exciting aspects of the marriage of MIM with 3D printing is related to materials and material development. Most traditional powder bed laser systems (DMLS) require materials with a much higher level of powder processing. Costs of material remains extremely high and material options have remained relatively low as manufacturers have been forced to develop their own supply chain for their materials. Alternatively, Desktop Metal has been able to leverage the current supply chain for MIM materials. Desktop Metal can access the current MIM supply chain in order to bring lower cost materials to the table. Of course, Desktop Metal will package the MIM materials in order to keep them proprietary, but they have the advantage of being able to offer the materials at a much lower price point than other additive metal solutions. One of my highlights of 2017 was the opportunity to meet Dr. Animesh Bose, VP of R&D (one of the DM founders, chief metallurgist, and MIM guru) at Desktop Metal’s Boston Headquarters.
There is also an impressive range of materials compatible with the MIM process. Desktop Metal has identified potential for 100’s of materials with some potential, 30 on a short list and 7 that will be released with the Studio System in the short term. We are currently producing benchmark samples for our customers that are willing to place a reservation for a Studio System out of the following core alloys:
17-4PH: Stainless steel for strength and corrosion resistance
AISI 4140: Low alloy, mid-carbon steel for high strength and toughness
316 L: Stainless steel for corrosion resistance at high temps
Copper: For thermal and electrical conductivity
Inconel 625: Superalloy for strength and corrosion resistance at high temperatures
H13: Tool steel for hardness and abrasion resistance at elevated temperatures
Kovar: Controlled thermal expansion alloy
4. Desktop Metal Studio offers increased capability and convenience in support removal
Desktop Metal offers a patented method for making manual support removal from metal parts possible and more convenient. Desktop Metal uses a secondary ceramic material in the printing process that is used only at the interface between the model and the required support. Please keep in mind that supports are used not only in the printing process, but for holding the part during the sintering process in the included office-friendly furnace.
The hinge assembly in the photo was produced in a single build with the ceramic interface separating the individual components of the hinge assembly. This not only allows users to print parts that cannot be produced using traditional subtractive methods, but makes it possible to remove supports from prototypes relatively easily and conveniently without special tools or secondary machining processes. I believe this will prove to be one of the key capabilities that helps make direct access to metal printing accessible and convenient.
5. Desktop Metal Studio and part density
There are two types of density discussed in relationship to Desktop Metal Studio parts. The photo below shows the same hinge part with the internal sparse filled structure exposed, which is the first type of density that is often discussed. The Desktop Metal Studio prints parts using the basic FDM process which allows users to select the density internal structure of the part. Selecting a less dense internal structure will decrease the time it takes to get a metallurgical dense metal part. Similar to the plastic 3D printers, the Desktop Metal software offers the user the ability to select the shell thickness and other parameters as needed. I believe the ability to manage weight using sparse capabilities will offer some unique problem solving capabilities, especially in manufacturing tooling applications and automation tooling where we can save cycle times by moving robots faster with lighter weight structures that still need to be metal.
The metallurgical density of parts after sintering is another type of density that is often discussed. Parts printed on the Studio System and sintered in the included furnace is very similar to MIM parts (~95%-99% dense). Based on the best of my knowledge, these numbers correlate to a very strong part with reasonably good isotropic properties. So far, all of the benchmark samples we have produced for customers have been very well received. The strength of the parts has been excellent and the customers have been surprised by the details retained in the parts including internal cavities, threads, logos, etc.
Please contact us if you’d like additional information about Desktop Metal or getting a custom benchmark sample of your own. Please consider following AdvancedTek on LinkedIn for future samples and customer stories.