Everybody loves 3D printing, but everyone also wishes it was cheaper, faster, and stronger. For a lot of applications, plastic 3D printers do a great job, but there are still plenty of applications where the strength or temperature requirements are just too high for plastics. That’s where metals come in. Unfortunately, today’s metal 3D printing is still in its infancy. It’s too industrial for prototyping, too slow for production, and too expensive for both. Desktop Metal has announced two printers designed to address these concerns, the Studio System and the Production System.
With the Studio System, Desktop Metal is addressing the market void for prototyping. Existing Powder Bed Fusion technologies are just too industrial and expensive to make financial sense. They require huge pieces of equipment and facilities modifications in order to run in-house, and cost a fortune to get printed at a service bureau.
The Studio System is the first office-friendly, affordable metal 3D printing system. It’s designed to be used in an office environment without a dedicated or highly specialized operator.
The process for the Studio System utilizes many of the same principles as the process for Metal Injection Molding (MIM). The only major difference is how the part is formed. With the Studio System, we shape the part using a technology very similar to plastic FDM printing, where we extrude material through a heated tip and draw out the part layer by layer. This material is a metal powder held together by a plastic resin. After the part is formed, we wash out the resin in a debinder station, then place the part in a furnace for sintering. All of the processing and calculations for what temperatures and heat times are taken care of by the software so there is no requirement to have an expert or metallurgist on site to determine these parameters.
The aptly named Production System is designed with production volumes in mind. Today’s printers take too long to be able to keep up with production needs, which is part of what contributes to the per piece cost being too high to be a viable option. The Production System uses a different method of material forming than the Studio System, which is what unlocks the speed and per piece cost needed. Once the part is formed, the debind and sintering processes are identical to the Studio System.
Owen Lu | Applications Engineer