Markforged, a 3D printer manufacturer, announced this week that following a 21-day trial, a jury in the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts, Boston, unanimously found that Markforged did not infringe any claims of IP belonging to Desktop Metal, another developer of 3D printing machines.
Desktop Metal had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival metal 3D printing company Markforged. Markforged responded, saying it “categorically denies” the allegations. Markforged responded to those allegations, denying any wrongdoing and responded with its own court filings. Desktop Metal sought significant damages from Markforged.
Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop said: “We believe Markforged products clearly utilize technology patented by Desktop Metal and we will do what is necessary to protect our IP and our company.”
Desktop Metal had claimed that the manner in which the Markforged Metal X printer forms ceramic release layers in order to print complex parts infringed on their patents. After deliberating for less a day, the jury returned a complete non-infringement verdict, finding that Markforged did not infringe and had not induced or contributed to infringement by its customers.
In a nutshell, the lawsuit alleged that Markforged used Desktop Metal’s patented technologies on the Metal X 3D printer, specifically technologies relating to support structure breakaway.
The most relevant Desktop Metal patents, numbers 9,815,118 and 9,833,839, were first put to use in Desktop Metal’s Studio and Production 3D printing systems. In its legal complaint, Desktop Metal compares the patented technology to apparently similar technology used in Markforged’s Metal X 3D printer.
Other patents referenced in the case included: 9,815,118 – Fabricating multi-part assemblies 9,833,839 – Fabricating an interface layer for removable support 5,182,056 – Stereolithography method and apparatus employing various penetration depths 5,182,170 – Method of producing parts by selective beam interaction of powder with gas phase reactant 5,204,055 – Three-dimensional printing techniques 5,242,098 – Method of explosively bonding composite metal structures 5,286,573 – Method and support structures for creation of objects by layer deposition 5,387,380 – Three-dimensional printing techniques 5,496,682 – Three dimensional sintered inorganic structures using photopolymerization
For Markforged, this verdict validates the history of independently developed IP that has fueled its year-over-year growth. To date, Markforged has 100 filed patent applications and 15 issued patents, the most recent of which – US Patent 10,000,011 – was issued last month.
Announced in 2017, the Markforged Metal X 3D printing system is transforming the way businesses approach their manufacturing operations, amidst a quickly growing metal 3D market that IDTechEx estimates will be worth $12B by 2028. Markforged Metal X customers print end-use parts that the company claims are 50% lighter and 95% faster than other part creation processes.
Greg Mark, founder and CEO of Markforged, said, “I founded Markforged in my kitchen six years ago. I dreamt of giving every engineer the ability to 3D print real, functional, mechanical parts. We invented something that had never existed before — a continuous carbon fiber 3D printer. Our Metal X product is an extension of that platform. We’ve come a long way. We now have the most advanced technology platform in 3D printing, and I’m incredibly proud of what our team of engineers have accomplished. A competitor filed a lawsuit against us, including various far-fetched allegations. Markforged categorically denies these allegations and we will be formally responding shortly in our own court filing”.
“Markforged printers have changed the way businesses produce strong parts while dramatically impacting the delivery times, cost, and supply chain logistics.” said Mark. “We feel gratified that the jury found we do not infringe, and confirmed that the Metal X, our latest extension of the Markforged printing platform, is based on our own proprietary Markforged technology.”
Something struck me as weird with this whole legal debacle. Ironically, the Desktop Metal CEO was on the Markforged board, he left and started Desktop Metal, and less than two years later Markforged announced the Metal X with prototype parts. Likely both parties had worked on this particular project for a while. I just wonder how much the Desktop Metal CEO knew before he left the Markforged board.
Although patent infringement lawsuits like this are nothing new, and will certainly continue, I’m torn. On the one hand, lawsuits like this do the industry no good. I wasn’t so sure the patents would hold up considering that using a binder that gets “sintered” out is not novel to 3D printers – that science has been around a long time. The fact they are pushing it out of a nozzle into shapes also does not make it unique.
On the other hand, to the extent these companies are relying on external investment, and to the extent patents mean the company experiences less competition and is worth more in case of liquidation, patents can accelerate the industry.
Desktop Metal has raised well over $200 million in investment, and obviously some of that was on the based of the value of its patents.
Ultimately, I wasn’t so sure the patents would hold up considering that using a binder that gets “sintered” out is not unique to 3D printers. A quick scan of the two patents in question makes them look a little deeper than just that. I’m not sure how unique they truly are, but it’s more than just “binder + sintering.” However, that does make it unique, as long as they properly reference prior art. That’s how patents work.
Without reading the independent claims of the patents in question, its impossible to know how good or bad the patents are. And unless you’re experienced in reading patents (either because you’ve been trained in it or are a patent attorney), it’s hard to really determine the specific set of claims, just because of how obtuse they’re written. I did a quick skim of the claims in both and didn’t see anything that seemed unusually broad, and they do reference a number of prior patents. One of them, for example, has a few independent claims, but they all are clones of the first one.
That’s not about sintering material with a binder, its specifically about how to do so with two parts in close proximity with them maintaining their mechanical association, but without becoming bound by the binder. All the dependent claims derive from that, and the other independent claims call out specific materials to use as the interface to prevent the bonding of the two sintered parts. That is not obvious, and is justifiably patentable.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on developments in the Desktop Metal versus Markforged case because it certainly won’t be the last.
Carbon is an additive manufacturing system company that bridges hardware, software, and molecular science to further digital 3D manufacturing that goes far beyond prototyping. With Carbon’s Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology and its SpeedCell system, manufacturers can explore new business opportunities such as mass customization, on-demand inventory, and differentiated products made with unique functional materials.
Carbon’s vision is a future fabricated with light, where traceable, final-quality parts are produced at scale with Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology. CLIP is a fast photochemical process that eliminates the shortcomings of conventional 3D printing by using light and oxygen to rapidly produce objects from a pool of resin.
Carbon entered the market just over three years ago with its innovative resin-based 3D printing technology, bringing to market its first 3D printer, the M1, a year later. The SpeedCell system with the M2 3D printer and Smart Part Washer was introduced in 2017.
Carbon M1 3D Printer Demonstration
Despite industry advances, traditional approaches to additive manufacturing force trade-offs between surface finish and mechanical properties. In contrast, DLS (Digital Light Synthesis) technology, enabled by Carbon’s proprietary CLIP process, is a unique technology that uses digital light projection, oxygen permeable optics, and programmable liquid resins to produce parts with excellent mechanical properties, resolution, and surface finish.
Traditionally 3D printed parts have been notoriously inconsistent. Conventional 3D printed materials often exhibit variable strength and mechanical properties depending on the direction in which they were printed. DLS parts behave consistently in all directions. The resolution and gentleness of the process — where parts aren’t harshly repositioned with every slice — make it possible to exploit a range of materials that have surface finish and detail needed for end–use parts.
CLIP is a photochemical process that carefully balances light and oxygen to rapidly produce parts. It works by projecting light through an oxygen-permeable window into a reservoir of UV-curable resin. As a sequence of UV images are projected, the part solidifies and the build platform rises.
The heart of the CLIP process is the “dead zone” – a thin, liquid interface of uncured resin between the window and the printing part. Light passes through the dead zone, curing the resin above it to form a solid part. Resin flows beneath the curing part as the print progresses, maintaining the “continuous liquid interface” that powers CLIP.
Once a part is printed with CLIP, it’s baked in a forced-circulation oven. Heat sets off a secondary chemical reaction that causes the materials to adapt and strengthen.
An independent consulting firm and industry source that we know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., recently released the Wohlers Report 2018, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide.
Wohlers Associates is widely recognized as the leading consulting firm and foremost authority on additive manufacturing and 3D printing. This annual publication has served as the undisputed industry-leading report on the subject for two decades. Over the 23 years of its publication, many (including me) have referred to the report as the “bible” of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing—terms that are used interchangeably by the company (and industry).
Wohlers Report 2018 is filled with insightful data and perspective to inform readers of the most critical developments in the industry. According to the new report, an estimated 1,768 metal AM systems were sold in 2017, compared to 983 systems in 2016, an increase of nearly 80%. This dramatic rise in metal AM system installations accompanies improved process monitoring and quality assurance measures in metal AM, although more work is ahead. Increasingly, global manufacturers are becoming aware of the benefits of producing metal parts by additive manufacturing.
The Dramatic Rise In Metal AM System Sales (Source: Wohlers Report 2018)
This past week I had the pleasure of attending RAPID + TCT 2018, a conference and exhibition that showcases 3D printing/additive manufacturing with a myriad new technologies, materials, and processes. The event, put on by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is a highlight of the year for us, and again, we came away overwhelmed (in a very good way) by all that we witnessed.
Much like last year, if there were three words to describe the SME’s RAPID + TCT 3D Printing & Manufacturing Event they would be metal, metal, and metal — machines producing metal parts were everywhere. This year marked the 28th event and seemed more like a mini IMTS than an additive manufacturing show with exhibitors ranging from material suppliers to post processors to traditional machining companies. There were, of course, the industry heavy hitters, but there were also a lot of startup companies exhibiting for the first time that made things really interesting.
Post-processing also got a lot of exposure as companies providing these technologies had more of a presence and recognizing that this important aspect of AM needs to be an integral part of the production process, and not relegated to being an afterthought.
This year’s theme was “3D In 360°,” meaning the industry is starting to come full circle in terms of capabilities and potential, and this theme was clearly evident in the technical sessions and on the exhibit show floor. This year continued a distinct change of industry direction from one-off rapid prototyping of parts to production quantities in the hundreds and even thousands.
3D printing, or more accurately, additive manufacturing (AM), has come a long way since its inception, and especially the past few years. It also continues to grow at an amazing rate. IDC forecasts worldwide spending on 3D printing to be early $12 billion in 2018
A new update to the Worldwide Semiannual 3D Printing Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC) shows global spending on 3D printing (including hardware, materials, software, and services) will be nearly $12.0 billion in 2018, an increase of 19.9% over 2017. By 2021, IDC expects worldwide spending to be nearly $20.0 billion with a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.5%.
Discrete manufacturing will be the dominant industry for 3D printing, delivering more than half of all worldwide spending throughout the 2017-2021 forecast. Healthcare providers will be the second largest industry with a spending total of nearly $1.3 billion in 2018, followed by education ($974 million) and consumer ($831 million). By 2021, IDC expects professional services and retail to move ahead of the consumer segment. The industries that will see the fastest growth in 3D printing spending over the five-year forecast are the resource industries and healthcare.
The leading use cases for 3D printing are prototypes, aftermarket parts, and parts for new products. As the primary use cases for the discrete manufacturing industry, these three use cases will account for 44% of worldwide spending in 2018.
As testament to this tremendous growth, this week, 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker announced that Robert Bosch GmbH, a leading global supplier of technology and services, will invest in Ultimaker 3 Extended printers on a global scale. After comparing several desktop 3D printers, the additive manufacturing department of Bosch selected Ultimaker as the most reliable, easy-to-use, and machine that produced the highest quality parts. The printers will now be used in different locations across Germany, Hungary, China, India, the United States and Mexico for printing innovative prototypes, tooling, jigs and fixtures, while cutting design and manufacturing costs.
Ultimaker Interview at Westec 2017
As the world’s largest supplier of automotive components and an important supplier of industrial technologies, consumer goods, and energy and building technology, Bosch, has a strategic objective to deliver innovative products. In order to save time and costs, and for a faster time-to-market for its new products, the company decided to invest in desktop 3D printing on a global scale. Now, with the Ultimaker rollout, all departments of the additive manufacturing department of Bosch can benefit from a uniform 3D printing solution with materials, training and global support. This approach will ensure consistent, quality 3D printing results across teams and locations.
With 2017 winding down and the holidays upon us, MCAD news typically slows down big time. Not so this year, though, as two 3D printing manufacturers – Desktop Metal and Carbon – announced big news this week.
Desktop Metal Shipping Studio System
Just eight months after its initial introduction, Desktop Metal announced it has begun shipping its metal 3D printer to early pioneer customers as part of the Studio System rollout.
The Studio System, which debuted in May, is the first office-friendly metal 3D printing system for rapid prototyping and is 10 times less expensive than existing technology today. The Studio System is a complete platform, including a printer, a debinder, and a sintering furnace that, together, deliver metal 3D printed parts in an office or on the shop floor.
Participating in Desktop Metal’s Pioneers Program, Google’s Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) group is the first pioneer to receive the Studio printer. Among the inaugural Pioneer customers in the program, companies span six industries – heavy machinery, consumer electronics, automotive, service bureaus, machine shops and government & education. Benchmark parts range from tooling, prototyping and jigs & fixtures, to end-use parts for functional applications.
Desktop Metal’s 3D Printer (video courtesy of TechCrunch)
“Since the launch of our Pioneers Program, we have seen really passionate engineers and world-class companies begin to develop benchmark metal 3D printed parts with the Studio System,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal. “We are extremely excited to begin shipping our Studio printer to these early pioneer customers and sales partners, including Google’s ATAP, and, over the next several months, will be working closely with each to learn more about how engineers want to use our system.”
It’s almost the end of November, so with just over a month left of this year, it’s not too early to start thinking about what we’ll be covering in 2018. The calendar below reflects what we regard as some of the most important topics today in design and manufacturing, as well as feedback from our readers and other supporters requesting content.
The main theme for each month will be covered in an extended article or series of articles so that the topic can be covered more comprehensively.
We’ll also be covering some of the major MCAD events throughout the year, reporting what we see and hear from vendors, partners, and attendees. All of the events we attend will include daily written coverage and Tweets throughout event days, as well as video and audio interviews, and podcasts.
If you have any thoughts of topics you would like to see covered in 2018, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719.221.1867.
We look forward to an exciting 2018 and providing you with the MCAD content you want most for improving your design, engineering, and manufacturing processes.
Keep MCADCafe.com your source for all things MCAD because 2018 is going to be a great year!
2018 MCADCafe Editorial Calendar of Monthly Topics
January 2018 – Blockchain in Manufacturing
February 2018 — Cloud Computing with MCAD Applications
Although the future of 3D printing continues to look bright, what is still needed is a new file format for 3D print data. Being very mindful of that fact, Autodesk, HP, Siemens, Stratasys, 3D Systems, and some others have come together to form the 3MF Consortium that espouses to get behind a truly ubiquitous file format for 3D printing. It’s really an industry partnership working toward the goal of finding a better, universally applicable 3D printing file format known as the 3D Manufacturing Format (3MF)—a file format originally developed by Microsoft, also a member of the Consortium.
The consortium admits that there is a problem that the 3D manufacturing must resolve – the current file formats used for 3D printing are in serious need of an upgrade. I totally agree.
Typically, data is passed from computer to 3D printer in STL (stereolithography) or OBJ (object) files, common 3D printing file formats. The 3MF Consortium, which now includes the research wing of General Electric, say STL and OBJ are outdated and clunky file formats with interoperability issues when used by some of the newer 3D printers, as well as contribute to 3D printing failures.
3MF Consortium Introduction
Thus, one of the driving forces behind 3MF, an XML-based open format, this new file type could contain information on the texture of a 3D print, the color of the print, and other complex characteristics. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is—the Additive Manufacturing File Format (AMF), which has been around since 2011, solves many of the issues STL files have, and 3MF and AMF are in many respects pretty similar file formats, but let’s take a closer look.
Like it or not, since the mid-1980s, the STL file format has been the de facto industry standard for transferring information between CAD programs and additive manufacturing equipment. However, the STL format only contains information about a surface mesh, and cannot represent color, texture, material, substructure, and other properties of a fabricated object.
As additive manufacturing technology has evolved from producing primarily single-material, homogenous shapes to producing multi-material geometries in full color with functionally graded materials and microstructures, there has been a growing need for a standard interchange file format that could support these features. A second factor that prompted the development of a new standard was the improving resolution of additive manufacturing machines. As the fidelity of printing processes approached micron scale resolution, the number of triangles required to describe smooth curved surfaces resulted in unacceptably large file sizes.
The Additive Manufacturing File Format (AMF) was introduced as an alternative to the STL file format to address many of the shortcomings of the popular file format. STL files introduce errors such as leaks and inconsistences, and also does not support color, material The choice, or orientation. STL files also rely on triangle subdivision to account for curvature. As the STL file scales in size, retaining resolution means introducing significantly more triangles. For example, a 10cm sphere at 10 micrometer resolution requires 20,000 triangles. Scaling up the 10cm sphere at the same resolution would significantly increase the amount of triangles, resulting in a much larger file. AMF seeks to address these issues by redesigning the way a 3D object is digitally stored.
Since the dawn of 3D printing, a little over three decades ago, there has been one file format that has dominated communicating with 3D printers — STL. Love it or hate it, and even with its limitations and shortcomings, STL has remained the de facto standard for the 3D printing industry. That may finally be changing, though, with the advent of more contemporary and robust file formats for 3D printing, such as AMF and 3MF. Over the next couple weeks we’ll be discussing the evolution, advantages, and disadvantages of 3D printing file formats, starting this week with STL.
So What Exactly Is An STL File?
Essentially, an STL file stores information about 3D models, but this format describes only the surface geometry of a 3D object without any representation of color, texture, or other common model attributes.
As it has been for three plus decades, the STL file format is still by far the most commonly used file format for communicating with 3D printers.
The true meaning of the file extension .STL has always been somewhat of a mystery. I’ve always considered it be an abbreviation of the word STereoLithography, although sometimes I have also heard it referred to as Standard Triangle Language or Standard Tessellation Language. Which is correct? Probably all of them.
Introduction To The STL File Format
The main purpose of the STL file format is to encode the surface geometry of a 3D object using tessellation. Tessellation is the process of tiling a surface with one or more geometric shapes with no overlaps or gaps. Having no gaps is especially important, as an object must be watertight to be printed. A good real life example of tessellation is a tiled floor.