Desktop Metal—Q&A with Fathomer
As the Advanced Technologies Manager for Fathom, Michael Duncan directs cutting-edge projects for innovative, forward-thinking companies of all sizes throughout the United States. Duncan has 30+ years of experience in a variety of industries utilizing new technologies for innovative design and manufacturing solutions. He comes to Fathom with a degree in Product Design and Materials Science from the University of Washington and a deep insight into the Metal Injection Molding (MIM) process. His experience also includes managing innovation groups for new product development and concept realization. Duncan’s current focus is helping Fathom customers leverage additive technologies and materials as innovative tooling aids that enhance and accelerate the traditional manufacturing process. In this featured interview, Duncan explains why the Fathom team is excited about working with Desktop Metal and its innovative equipment, as well as how the Desktop Metal team is changing everything we know about metal fabrication by way of additive technologies.
Fathom is excited to announce its partner agreement with Desktop Metal because these 3D printing systems can complement an entire product life cycle, from prototyping to mass production—how does the technology work and what interests you the most about it?
Duncan—It is really exciting to partner with Desktop Metal because we get the opportunity to connect a broader engineering and manufacturing market with a lower barrier-of-entry solution for metal additive technologies. What is possible with current metal 3D printing equipment is exciting but it is still cost prohibitive so the adoption of metal 3D printing is slow. We know that the market is more than ready for a system that is both office friendly and economically accessible. Now, more design and engineering teams will have the opportunity to explore what’s possible with metal 3D printing and many new application innovations will develop at a much faster rate.
Prototyping small precision parts intended for volume powder metal production processes such as Metal Injection Molding (MIM) or Pressed Metal (PM) is difficult. Developing tooling and qualifying production methods can be a long iterative process. Desktop Metal 3D printing solutions provide more competitive options than traditional tooling resulting in accelerated part development. Users can much more easily build metal parts for evaluation, functional testing and production use. It’s also exciting how many materials will be made available. Desktop Metal is planning for a variety of options, from steels and aluminum to superalloys and titanium.
Desktop Metal is developing two equipment types, the Studio System that is similar to the Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process and the Production System that is based on a new approach to metal 3D printing called Single Pass Jetting (SPJ)—what does this mean for design and engineering teams today who are using metal 3D printing to prototype and manufacture metal parts?
Duncan—The Studio System allows for metal part design and refinement in a way that is familiar to designers and engineers today. Safe and easy to use like many FDM-based systems. The Production system will enable a better Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) experience. Part designs can be created with unique features or assembly options without the constraints of tooling requirements such as draft, wall thickness, lightweighting or complex internal passages normally difficult if not impossible to realize using traditional technologies. All the advantages of metal 3D printing like speed and freedom of design can now be easily realized right in your office. Now, the only limitation really is your imagination!
Also, we strongly feel that there is a huge opportunity to use this technology for accelerating tooling applications, such as injection molding, jigs and fixtures.
Can you tell us more about current metal 3D printing challenges and how the studio version impacts today’s product development process? And, the production platform for manufacturing?
Duncan—Current metal 3D printing technologies require support structure removal and second operations such as processing feature edges or roundness of holes, as well as removing trapped metal powder. Much of the cost, lead-time and part accuracy result from these extra steps. I’m looking forward to the DM Production System that will be able to produce net shape parts in a variety of metals with minimal second operation process steps. There isn’t another system that can provide as much part design freedom for prototype and production metal parts that fast.
Desktop Metal aims to create systems that offer superior properties so users can build near-net-shape parts—who needs these systems the most and what types of applications will Desktop Metal equipment be best suited for?
Duncan—Any customer that is currently using a variety of powder metal parts/processes in their products will want these 3D printers in-house—for example, customers that previously couldn’t afford the MIM process because of supplier selection, tooling costs, supplier management, lead-times, volume requirements and part cost variability. Applications in industries such as consumer products, medical devices and military equipment will be able to make the most of having a system from Desktop Metal.
In a recent MIT Technology Review by David Rotman, he wrote about how designers want more freedom to create and test parts and devices with complex shapes that can’t be made any other way but with additive technologies—what metal 3D printing options exist today and what makes Desktop Metal stand out?
Duncan—Metal 3D printed parts have influenced many part designs such as addressing unique performance or environmental applications. But as Rotman points out, the cost is still high and many second steps are required to realize the final part. Desktop Metal has addressed the entire process from CAD data to finished part, taking many of the process steps out of the formula. Metal 3D printing is available today but it is not very accessible. There’s been a growing need for serious metal-based digital fabrication in the marketplace and Desktop Metal is bridging the gap by making metal 3D printing easier to adopt to product development and manufacturing applications. When teams have these systems in-house, adoption will dramatically increase and we’ll see all kinds of interesting applications.