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Is This the 3-D Printer That Will Change Manufacturing?

That’s the $100-million-dollar question that’s on the mind of investors such as GE, BMW, Alphabet and other leading venture capital firms who invested nearly that much in Desktop Metal in their quest to reinvent how manufacturing makes metal parts.

Desktop Metal CEO Ric Fulop is convinced that his printer is the solution to a decades-long problem faced by inventors of 3-D printing machines in their quest to print metal in a simple and cost-effective way. That’s a far cry from what companies such as GE and other advanced manufacturers who are using specialized lasers to produce a few high-value parts — something that requires millions of dollars, facilities to power the lasers, and expert techs to run the entire operation — are currently doing to meet industry demand.

But if he’s right, Fulop’s printer will turn the manufacturing process on its ear.

That’s because Desktop Metal’s 3-D printer has been designed to accomplish three things:

  • Give designers the freedom they need to create and test parts and devices with complex shapes;
  • Empower engineers and materials scientists to create parts with new functions and properties by depositing various combinations of materials; and
  • Redefine the economics of mass production. In ensuring the cost of printing something would be the same regardless of how many items were produced, manufacturers would approach the entire manufacturing process — including the size of their facilities, the need for backup inventory, and the process of customizing manufacturing to specialized products — in an entirely new way.

Admittedly, where Fulop faces perhaps his biggest challenge is in the habits of the manufacturers themselves. But if Desktop Metal can convert manufacturers away from production methods that are at the heart of what Fulpop considers to be “a trillion-dollar industry,” the effort will be well worth it.

This post is based on an article first published by MIT Technology Review on April 25, 2017. For those interested in exploring the art and science of printing metal, the article is an engaging read. You can access it in its entirety right here.

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