Massachusetts-based 3D printer manufacturer, Markforged, has is the source for a lot of recent buzz and growing excitement in the 3D printing industry as their Metal X 3D printers are now being distributed. As a company that proclaims to be “rabidly obsessed with quality,” this industrial 3D printer is set to make its mark across a wide variety of industries such as manufacturing, aerospace, automotive and marine.
According to Trak Lord, Director of Communications at Markforged, “The demand for the Metal X has been outside of our wildest dreams,” said Lord, giving an update on the company’s direction and especially its metal AM system. “We have a very healthy list of people we are shipping to gradually every single month as we move these full systems out. It’s been a fun process.”
Andrew de Geofroy, Vice President of Applications Engineering at Markforged, added, “When you’re bringing cutting-edge technology to the market, that demand is a testament to the capabilities we’re bringing to a market that just has not existed before.” He refers to the facts that the Metal X is not only cheaper than the vast majority of traditional technologies for metal printing, but also offers outstanding safety aspects. “You can use this without having a clean room or wearing bunny suits and a respirator,” he explains. “This is a huge advantage.”
A crucial component to Markforged’s overall plan for the Metal X lies in the release of further materials – currently 17-4 PH stainless steel is the material offered with Metal X. 17-4 PH Stainless Steel combines high strength, corrosion resistance, and hardness, making it widely used in aerospace, medical and petroleum industries. The company’s total ownership of the entire print ecosystem (this includes the software, hardware, materials and consumables) makes Markforged a company of perfectionists, in a sense. According to Lord, “We’re not going to release a new material until we’re comfortable with the standards of quality.”
- 316L Stainless Steel: also known as marine grade stainless steel, this material exhibits very good corrosion resistance and excellent weldability.
- 6061 Aluminum: combines good machinability, strength, and weldability. It can additionally be anodized with a good finish. We use it for many of the machined components in the Markforged Metal X.
- 7075 Aluminum: one of the strongest aluminum alloys. With good fatigue strength and a high strength-to-weight ratio, this alloy is stronger than common structural steels (A36, 1018). We use it on the kinematic coupling in the bed of the Mark X. It’s also common in aerospace and automotive racing.
- A-2 Tool Steel: air-hardened with excellent impact resistance. We use it for punches, dies, and form tooling on the Markforged Metal X.
- D-2 tool steel: provides great hardness and abrasion resistance (but not as tough as A-2). D-2 is often used for cutting tools.
- IN Alloy 625: Inconel’s strength combined with its impressive heat resistance makes it ideal for heat and pressure shielding applications. This Nickel-based superalloy is commonly used in jet engines and medical applications, and is very hard to machine. It is also very chemically resistant.
- Ti-6AI-4V: Bearing the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal, Titanium 6-4 is ideal for lightweight applications and has both high tensile strength and fatigue resistance. This bio-compatible material is widely used in medical applications such as orthopedic joint replacements.
Markforged has created a proprietary formulation which essentially combines metal injection molding with a plastic bider. The result is a flexible material which the coil onto spools that are transported to the print-head nozzle – the process is very similar to the material feed system that Markforged’s composite 3D printing systems utilize. In addition to this, there is a secondary filament that runs through the second print-head nozzle. This ceramic release material is deposited onto the Markforged Metal X’s building platform in order to ensure that completed parts can be easily detached from the platform of undergoing sintering on Markforged’s complementary Sinter-1 Furnace
Another major advantage of the Markforged Metal X will be the interchangeability of new materials as they are released. .
According to an article from Pamela J. Waterman, “Many users new to metal AM don’t understand the costs involved on traditional powder-bed sintering equipment when switching between materials. Often the user must request the OEM to send in field staff: specialized skills are needed to thoroughly clean the printer of the current metal’s residue before another type can be loaded in, due to the hazards involved in handling the fine powders.“
Andrew de Geofroy explained that “One customer said if they wanted to use a different metal material, they would actually have to consider buying an entirely new printer, and at that point it’s just cost-prohibitive – they’re stuck with what they’ve got.” He says Markforged is adamant about making sure that’s not an issue for its customers.
The Markforged Metal X system also comes equipped with the Markforged Wash-1 automatic washing station so that the binder material can easily be dissolved.