Metal is ‘on fire’ right now in additive manufacturing as technologies continue to progress; the segment has been a major feature at industry events lately, and the recent RAPID + TCT was certainly no exception, as metals drew significant attention. Adding flame to that metal fire was Boston-based Markforged. Just ahead of the conference, Markforged began shipping its highly-anticipated Metal X 3D printing systems, which have since made their way around the globe.
I appreciated the time to sit down again with Vice President of Product Jon Reilly, whom I last caught up with at CES 2018, in Texas to discuss the latest at the busy, growing company.
“We’re shipping the full Metal X system, end to end,” he began. “Stanley Black & Decker was our first public shipment; they have the full system, including the Sinter-1 and Wash-1.”
Installed at STANLEY Infrastructure Innovation Center, a division of Stanley Black & Decker, the Metal X system is bringing agile metal manufacturing capabilities to the world’s largest handheld hydraulic tool manufacturer. Stanley Black & Decker is a dedicated proponent of 3D printing, employing the technology for more than three decades, and in looking for new ways to implement additive manufacturing has found Markforged to offer a strong solution. The company found what it estimated to be a 95% cost savings and 50% weight reduction in two metal parts 3D printed on the Metal X, affirming the system as an effective, efficient means of manufacturing complex, low-volume parts.
For its part, Markforged has been continuing to learn and improve its offerings, Reilly noted, and having more systems out in real-world conditions with an ever-growing number of customers provides ample opportunity to continue advances.
“We learn very quickly and test everything we can think of — and that’s only a fraction of what customers will think to do with our systems. We have sensors on everything, so we can learn and get better and better. We are working on our software, with updates that get better for everyone. We always push for that, to be better and better,” he told me.
“We’re embarking on that with metal. We’re sharpening focus on best-fit applications.”
Key among these best-fit opportunities are tooling and fixtures, where the strength offered — through the Metal X as well as the company’s line of Industrial X 3D printers and desktop series — provides for more efficiency in manufacturing operations. As discussed at last year’s RAPID + TCT with Markforged CEO Greg Mark, a technology needs to be efficient to be appropriately adopted into manufacturing workflows.
“A lot of what we do is geared toward making manufacturing lines more efficient, making line changeover faster and more efficient,” Reilly continued.
“Sometimes we can print a replacement part to get a down line back up. We drive direct value right to the manufacturer. The value proposition offered here sees carbon fiber printers show a return on investment in one to three months.”
This quick ROI validating the near-immediate value of bringing 3D printing into operations makes a strong case for Markforged, and is one the company has highlighted before in conversation.
Demonstrating the cost savings possible with 3D printing in a manufacturing setting, we looked at some fixtures on display; soft jaws made traditionally, via machining, cost $285.61. The same part, 3D printed using ONYX carbon fiber, cost $9.45 to make — “and got a lot faster,” Reilly added. We looked as well at a robot arm coupling for a manufacturing cell; the 3D printed coupling was ligther weight than machined aluminum, allowing for the arm to go faster.
Strength in offerings and in value positioning is key to the strategic approach for Markforged. While we do have to note that the path ahead isn’t without its difficulties, the team espoused the familiar confidence of a company that knows they have significant strength in both product and strategic approach.