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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Desktop Metal Shows AM Mettle

 
July 20th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

These are the dog days of summer, the hottest part of the season in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s also one of the slowest times of the year for noteworthy “hot” news; MCAD included, politics excluded.

However, this week marked a very noteworthy bit of news: Desktop Metal announced it has completed a $115 million Series D investment round to further accelerate the company’s rapid business growth and adoption of its end-to-end metal 3D printing systems. Since its inception in October 2015, Desktop Metal has raised a total of $212 million in financing, with the Series D marking the largest individual private round for a metal additive manufacturing company.

Desktop Metal Studio System

The Series D round included significant new investment from New Enterprise Associates (NEA), GV (formerly Google Ventures), GE Ventures, Future Fund and Techtronic Industries (TTI), a leader in quality consumer, professional and industrial products, including Milwaukee Tool, AEG, Ryobi, Hoover, Oreck, VAX and Dirt Devil. Additional investors included Lowe’s, Lux Capital, Vertex Ventures, Moonrise Venture Partners, DCVC Opportunity, Tyche, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Shenzhen Capital Group (SCGC), and Saudi Aramco.

With the Studio System, engineers can print complex, functional parts in a variety of materials, including copper. With its high electrical and thermal conductivity, copper is an ideal material for heat exchanger applications, like this copper heat sink for an LED light bulb. (Photo: Desktop Metal)

According to Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal, the funding will help fuel the company’s speed to market, expand its sales programs, as well as progress the development of advanced R&D. The company is also exploring international expansion as early as 2018.

Series D is generally the fifth round of investments, following a seed stage investment, and then series A through C. Series D could signal a couple of things. It could signal that the company has strong fundamentals but needs extra capital to accelerate expansion. Or, it could demonstrate that it hasn’t hit growth expectations set from series C; in this case this would be a “down” round and the series D is meant to keep the company afloat. More and more however you see private companies do multiple rounds of investments – even past series D – to stay private as long as possible as to avoid the public markets.

Desktop Metal Production System

“We are on the brink of an exciting transformation in how metal parts will be designed, prototyped, and ultimately mass produced,” said Fulop. “This latest funding puts us in an ideal position to ship our Studio System in the coming months and our Production System in 2018, while also enabling us to grow our company globally. The continued support of our investors underscores the power of our metal 3D printing solutions to help engineers and manufacturers, for the first time, apply metal 3D printing for the entire product development lifecycle – from prototyping to cost effectively mass producing complex metal parts.”

The funding announcement comes within three months of Desktop Metal launching two metal 3D printing systems covering the full product lifecycle — from prototyping to mass production.

The Studio System is the first office-friendly metal 3D printing system for rapid prototyping and is 10 times less expensive than existing technology today. Scheduled to begin shipping in September 2017, the price of the Studio system is $120k and is comprised of a printer ($50k), debinder ($10k), and microwave-enhanced sintering furnace ($60k). Build volume is 12″ x 8″ x 8″ (768 in^3), and build rate is 1 in^3/hr.

The Studio System is similar to advanced FDM printing. It uses a patented Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) extrusion process to make accurate and repeatable parts, extruding Desktop Metal’s media of MIM metal powders bound by a polymer mix – a chemistry developed in-house that allows parts to be printed in an office-friendly environment. It has a 50-micron layer resolution, automated bed leveling, and a heated build area.

To manufacture metal 3D printed parts at scale, Desktop Metal is also developing a 3D printing system for mass production of high resolution metal parts, the Production System. Using new, proprietary Single Pass Jetting (SPJ) technology, the Production System is 100 times faster than today’s laser-based additive manufacturing systems. Build volume is 13″ x 13″ x 13″, and build rate is 500 in^3/hr. Scheduled for shipment in mid-2018, Production System pricing starts at $360k (for the printer only); full system pricing is still being determined by the company.

The Production System’s SPJ was created in by co-founder and inventor of the binder jetting process, Ely Sachs who worked with Z-Corp and ExOne, together with Paul Hoisington, a scientist with over 100 patents in the field of inkjet printing.

Like the Studio system, it employs a proprietary microwave-enhanced sintering furnace. It uses metal powders together with Desktop Metal’s binder and two full-width print bars containing over 32,000 jets, printing at a speed Desktop Metal say is over 100x faster than today’s most common metal 3D printing systems. The company says SPJ is similar to what HP is doing in plastics.

Both systems are capable of using over 30 metal materials, including alloy and tool steel, copper, and inconel.

“Our mission at GE Ventures is to invest in startups with cutting-edge technologies,” said Steve Taub, Senior Director of Advanced Manufacturing, GE Ventures. “Desktop Metal’s team and technology have delivered on exactly what they’ve promised: a vision to change the way parts are manufactured, with the innovative metal 3D printing technology to make that a reality. We see a huge potential for engineers to rethink the way parts and products are made both domestically and abroad.”

“We’re enthusiastic about supporting Desktop Metal,” said Scott Griswold, President of Accessories at Milwaukee Tool, an industry leading manufacturer of professional, heavy-duty tools and accessories, and subsidiary of TTI. “Desktop Metal’s advances in metal 3D printing are disruptive by reducing product development time and by enabling 3D printed parts to be affordably brought to market.”

Both systems have another bonus for those wanting to print complex parts in metal, supports that are removable by hand. Desktop Metal has created and patented a unique ceramic release layer that sits in between supports. The ceramic is bound with polymers, and when sintered turns to sand, when supports are removed parts bear no witness marks.

I saw these machines at the RAPID + TCT event a couple months ago and talked to several principals and other employees about their unique systems. It was a lot to take in, but I came away with the feeling that this company and its technologies are going places, quickly.

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