Massachusetts-based startup Desktop Metal has become the fastest company in U.S. history to reach a billion-dollar valuation  through its patented 3D metal printing technology capable of printing cast quality metal parts . Products can be printed in 30 different alloys and hundreds of metal materials , including steel and aluminum .
To date, two manufacturing systems have been released. The studio system, for smaller one-off jobs, was released in September 2017. The full production system, meant for larger volumes, was released in 2018 to select partners, including BMW and Caterpillar .
Compared to today’s laser-based metal 3D printers, Desktop Metal’s Production System is up to 100 times faster  and offers 10 times cheaper initial costs and 20 times cheaper material costs . The system promises to be cheaper and faster than traditional metal cast molding and requires no hazardous materials or post processing .
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To create a product, users load their STL or CAD file into Desktop Metal software to create build plans. Based on the part’s geometry and material, the software automatically generates supports and control parameters that will ensure the structural integrity of the final product . Studio systems print via Bound Metal Deposition, in which metal powder held together by wax and polymer are heated and extruded in layers . Production systems print through Single Pass Jetting, wherein each pass, the printer deposits precise layers of metal powder and a binding agent . These processes are unique to Desktop Metal. The final product is immersed in a debind fluid to dissolve the primary binder and to prepare the piece for sintering, in which the part is heated in a furnace, the remaining binder removed, and metal particles fuse .
The studio system printer is priced at $120,000, including the furnace. A full production system and furnace is priced at a base of $420,000 . This price is 10 times less than competitor offerings . Desktop Metal also offers the option to rent .
Following the release of the first two products, Desktop Metal is focused on growing their user base, refining their products, and scaling the business. Desktop Metal will refine their target market  and attempt to convert manufacturers from existing production methods to 3D printing . After the introduction of the Studio System, Desktop Metal has collaborated with hundreds of customers across major industries to inform product development . The company also plans to increase staff and reach and to expand into Asia and Europe .
As part of the continued R&D process, Desktop Metals is experimenting with 3D printing of amorphous metals, metals that, when heated, behave more like glass or plastic. Amorphous metals are malleable, strong, and harder and more corrosion-resistant than conventional metals. This will offer new applications of the technology .
Additionally, in collaboration with SolidWorks, the company is developing a new software program called Live Force. The software applies machine learning to design lightweight parts that are strain and fatigue resistant. Live Force simulates forces over time to determine the most efficient design .
Desktop Metal should continue to invest in R&D. Continued exploration and experimentation in materials will drive innovation and potentially technology adoption. Future product development should pursue reduced equipment costs and increased production rate to improve the accessibility of the system. Live Force will require ongoing product development and verification from key opinion leaders across industries to overcome consumer hesitations and encourage mass adoption of the software.
To deliver on scale, Desktop Metal should consider designing a process in which either a machine or chemical bath can remove the Separable Supports post-sintering, rather than requiring human labor . This will encourage scalability of mass production.
As popularity of metal additive manufacturing increases, so may demand for the size of the final products. For instance, L.A. based start-up Relativity Space has successfully 3D printed a full-scale aerospace quality fuel tank, measuring 7 feet in diameter and 14 feet in height . Desktop Metal should consider if they want to expand their technology to produce such large products.
Desktop Metal should consider integrating Quality Assurance into its printing processes so that human inspection is not required for each piece. Sigma Labs would offer an excellent partnership candidate, as they are actively working with Boeing’s metal additive manufacturing process to develop a QA software that does not interfere with production .
As the company matures, Desktop Metal should consider whether its long-term strategy aligns with remaining a private company or going public. If the company elects to IPO, Desktop Metal should devise an IPO strategy that balances its short-term objectives and long-term goals .
- What will be required to reach the tipping point where additive manufacturing becomes a major player in the manufacturing space?
- How will 3D printing impact manufacturing jobs? What responsibility do 3D printing companies have to the communities whose livelihood is built around a factory?
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[Featured Image] “Desktop Metal Home.” Desktop Metal, www.desktopmetal.com/.
[Figure 1] “Desktop Metal Process.” AET Labs, 27 June 2017, aetlabs.com/product/desktop-metal/howitworks/.