Markforged's '3D print farms' could be future of large-scale digital metal manufacturing

Apr 27, 2017 | By Benedict

Massachusetts-based 3D printing company Markforged is using its new Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM) process and Metal X 3D printers to advance its futuristic “3D print farm” vision of large-scale metal manufacturing.

When Markforged unveiled its new Metal X 3D printer at CES earlier this year, we were struck by one thing in particular. Unusually for a Markforged product, it wasn’t the 3D printer itself, but the way that the company said it should be used.

Massachusetts-based Markforged, which cemented its place in additive manufacturing history when it released the world’s first carbon fiber 3D printer, the Mark One, said it had designed the Metal X to work not just as a standalone machine, but as part of a large-scale “3D print farm” consisting of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of 3D printers.

It is on these multi-printer 3D print farms that Markforged believes future large-scale metal 3D printing will take place. Given the focus from some quarters on making 3D printers bigger, Markforged’s approach stands out as a different option: rather than increase the size (or speed) of an individual 3D printer to increase its manufacturing capacity, you could instead use several 3D printers working in sync, controlled by a central system capable of assigning tasks for maximum efficiency.

It’s a daringly simple concept, one that is also followed by companies like Brooklyn-based Voodoo Manufacturing, but it’s also an ambitious one. Markforged is essentially telling manufacturers that they won’t just need a handful of 3D printers in the future—they’ll need thousands.

The Markforged Metal X 3D printer can inspect parts as they are being printed

Markforged recently released some extra information concerning its proposed 3D print farms, which the company says “will shorten development time, closing the gap between prototyping and production.”

According to Markforged, there are three key focus areas for making the concept a success.

The first of these involves using the company’s new ADAM 3D printing technology to reduce printing costs. The second involves deploying smart sensors to build a platform for the print farm, and the third involves using its enterprise-grade fleet management software, which can “optimize workflows, provide predictive analytics,” and “connect, monitor, and report results across a fleet of connected printers.”

ADAM, the 3D printing process used by the new Markforged Metal X 3D printers and 3D print farms, builds on the company’s carbon fiber printing processes, but replaces carbon fiber with 60% metal powder. The company says this new process improves “machine reliability, surface finish, final-part dimensional accuracy, and repeatability.”

“ADAM is an end-to-end process that starts with metal powder, captures it in a plastic binder (which makes it safe to handle), and then forms it into the part shape one layer at a time,” explains Markforged CEO Greg Mark. “After printing you sinter the part in a furnace, burning off the binder and solidifying the powder into the final fully-dense metal part.”

An important part of the 3D print farm project is reducing the overall cost of 3D printing for businesses—something that Markforged will absolutely need to demonstrate considering the scale of setting up one of these print farms. At present, Markforged’s desktop printers cost $3,499, but the company is working on a two-year target to make each printer in its print farms costs less than $1,000.

Part printed using Markforged’s ADAM 3D printing process

Of course, the idea behind the print farm is to have huge numbers of these printers running simultaneously. Assuming that the resulting high turnover of parts could generate suitable revenue, this would then hypothetically justify the investment in a sintering furnace, required to burn off the plastic binder used in the ADAM 3D printing process. A “full stack production furnace,” which can handle the output of 500-1,000 3D printers in a print farm, costs around $800,000.

When making quick prototypes, users of this new Markforged 3D printing technology could also use microwave sintering to produce pure metal parts “within hours.” The company says it has been microwaving ADAM parts with a 90-minute cycle time.

Fortunately for Markforged customers, the 3D printing company has developed its ADAM 3D printing process to work with a variety of 3D printable materials. “ADAM leverages well known MIM materials that are used in demanding, end-use applications,” Mark says. “Best of all, the process supports hundreds of metals. 17-4 Stainless Steel is the first material we will ship, but many others are in beta testing including Tool Steels, Titanium, Aluminum, and Inconel.”

Markforged’s cloud-based fleet management solution, Eiger, is used to control the many 3D printers in a print farm.

“In the next 2 years Markforged will achieve the technological leap to true digital metal manufacturing,” Mark says. “It’s time for mechanical engineering to enter the digital age.”

Posted in 3D Printer

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Sampling the future of food innovation in Singapore

Singapore

EATERIES with zero manpower interaction, 3D printing of food, meal kit subscription boxes with ingredients – these are all but a taste of what is to come.

These concepts may not be in the mainstream here yet, but it is a matter of time before Singapore moves in that direction, according to industry players.

What was considered revolutionary previously such as vending machine hot food and ready-to-eat meals are no longer so novel. Developments in the areas of food services and manufacturing are progressing at a breakneck pace, as food and beverage (F&B) companies increasingly tap technology and automation to compete.

In the last few years, institutes of higher learning and consultancies such as the Singapore Productivity Centre have seen a surge in companies seeking their assistance to transform their F&B businesses.

Just in the last year, Singapore Polytechnic’s Food Innovation & Resource Centre (FIRC) has seen an increase of about 20 per cent of companies asking for help.

Loong Mann Na, centre director of FIRC, says: “Some of these companies are looking at setting up central kitchens, while others are exploring creating new products or improving existing products in terms of quality and shelf life.”

Nanyang Polytechnic’s Asian Culinary Institute has also seen a “healthy” increase in F&B businesses wanting to work with them in areas such as workflow processes, manpower capability development, adoption of new business models, and automation solutions.

It can also be attributed to greater awareness on the need for innovation, as the Food Services and Food Manufacturing Industry Transformation Maps were rolled out last year. Led by Spring Singapore, the roadmaps aim to go beyond technology improvements to revamp business models as well.

Michael Tan, CEO of Singapore Productivity Centre, believes that more enterprises now see the urgency to become more manpower-lean, especially small and medium enterprises, as they grapple with intense competition, rising costs and a sluggish economy.

As to the belief that automation would cause workers to lose their jobs, industry specialists say that that is a misconception.

Explains Mr Tan: “Many F&B businesses today still face constraints on manpower and we have yet to see any displaced workers on the technology and automation projects that we worked on.”

In fact, the manhours saved from automation relieves the worker to do other tasks which often leads to higher value contribution per worker.

New advances in technology and changing lifestyle trends have opened up a world of possibilities for the Singapore consumer, where the world is indeed their oyster.

Trends that were once foreign are now becoming more common; dining formats such as ready-to-eat and grab-and-go meals are increasingly found in convenience stores and supermarkets. At the back end, there has also been an increased adoption in efficient cooking methods such as sous vide and cook-chilled foods.

Technology advances also have made it possible for food manufacturers to extend shelf-life for up to a year, such as through the high pressure processing (HPP) technique.

Some up and coming trends such as 3D printing which uses edible ingredients are still in the exploratory stage for food companies in Singapore, which has the potential to shake things up. For example, FIRC is designing and developing 3D printed meal solutions for the silver generation to maintain balanced physiological functions such as mobility, visual or brain health.

Another trend that is likely to hit is the meal-kit concept, says Mr Tan.

He recently visited Blue Apron in New York as part of a study mission in collaboration with the Culinary Institute of America. He was amazed by the meal kit evolution there where elderly couples, family members or friends can bond over a meal kit delivered to their home with all the necessary and sometimes unique ingredients to cook from scratch by simply following the recipe to whip up a finished product.

Alternative dining formats with minimal manpower interaction such as the US fast food restaurant chain Eatsa may also be a possibility here in the future, which might suit the busy executive during lunch hour or the working parent rushing back home.

Food innovation is not limited to just what is edible – solutions for food wastage are also likely to grow.

Tan Jek Min, director of ACI, says that he sees a growing interest in food manufacturers looking to recycle downstream food by-products and reduce food wastage. New products are being produced through such means.

Recently, Nanyang Polytechnic collaborated with a research team from Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore to develop a mussel sauce which is made using leftover broth from steaming mussels.

Even as innovations in the food industry continue to take place, one key challenge for businesses to overcome is the receptiveness of staff.

ACI’s Mr Tan says that there is a need to change the mindset of staff to embrace these changes and to allay their job fears. This is on top of ensuring that workers are trained to use new equipment and technology.

But no matter how advanced technology has become, h says, there will always be a need for the “human touch” in F&B businesses. “Machines can replace the laborious and manual work but you need the chef’s creativity and passion to create new, wonderful recipes, and service staff who provide excellent service will always be in demand . . . Machines are enablers but will not fully replace all aspects needed to run an F&B business.”

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Brits forecast a future of drones, space travel, virtual reality and 3D printing

British citizens forecast a future in which robots, routine space flights and drone-based pizza deliveries are a reality, according to London & Partners.

A survey of over 2,000 people commissioned by the Mayor of London’s promotional company shows that Brits expect their lives to be transformed significantly by technology in the next 20 years.

We will no longer visit a GP when unwell but instead discuss ailments with doctors through virtual reality (VR) headsets, while a large proportion foresee a future in which human organs are 3D printed to remove the reliance on organ donations. Half of those surveyed predict that the first human clone will be born as early as 2036.

The survey was commissioned as part of London Technology Week, and prompted new London mayor Sadiq Khan to highlight how Londoners have a progressive view of technological advances and declare his ambition to embrace and fuel that sentiment.

“London Technology Week shines a light on this hugely important sector of the economy and demonstrates how our city is open to trade, ideas and people from across the globe,” he said.

“Tech-savvy Londoners welcome new digital advances that are going to revolutionise the way we live, and it is crucial that we harness those ideas to help the capital work even better as a city.

“As someone who has helped to run a successful business, I look forward to supporting the tech sector so that it goes from strength to strength over the coming years.”

The research also found that 37 per cent of UK citizens envisage commercial space flights from major airports, and 23 per cent predict that there will be an artificial intelligence (AI) serving on the board of a big company, within 20 years.

Some 19 per cent of Brits, possibly less keen on physical interaction, see virtual girlfriends and boyfriends becoming commonplace, and 37 per cent believe that communication devices will be embedded inside their bodies within two decades.

Some of these predictions are unsurprising, given that high-end consumer VR headsets are now commercially available, AI is becoming embedded in an increasing number of devices, and driverless car testing is taking place across the country.

Startup accelerators have been set up to boost the development of new technologies, and the future envisioned by the survey respondents is by no means far-fetched.

Met Gala 2016: is 3D printing the future of fashion?

May 8, 2016 | By Tess

Every year all the biggest celebrities from the fashion, music, and film worlds come together dressed to the nines for the Met Gala, a high-profile fundraising event that raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City. The event is no ordinary fundraiser, however, as it draws attention from media outlets and people everywhere who are eager to see how celebs and fashion designers have interpreted the annual Met Gala theme. Last year’s theme “China: Through the Looking Glass”, was inspired by the Met’s exhibition by the same name and celebrities came adorned in the finest Chinese fabrics, and Chinese inspired designs. This year, in line with the Met’s recently launched exhibition Manus x Machina, the theme revolved around Fashion in the Age of Technology, and what became apparent during the evening, both through what celebs were adorned in and through the exhibit itself, was that technologies such as 3D printing are really the future of fashion.

On the red carpet—which was painted with a double-helix motif—as celebrity after celebrity posed in their stunning gowns and suits, it was interesting to see what interpretations of fashion and technology were brought forth. While many people chose to dress in metallic, or robotic styles, some celebrities went above and beyond in their embodiments of fashion in an age of technology by highlighting the recent advances in smart wearables. Model Karolina Kurkova, for instance, wore a stunning gown embedded with LED lights which flashed on when people tweeted #MetGala or #CognitiveDress. Claire Danes wore an equally dreamy number, a Cinderella inspired organza gown designed by Zac Posen that had ultrathin fiber-optics woven into it, which lit up in an eerie and stunning way.

Forward thinking fashion icon Emma Watson also impressed in a subtle black and white outfit which was made entirely from recycled plastics, showing the potential of sustainable fashion.  Lady Gaga, of course, wowed everyone with a Versace ensemble that included a micro-chip esque jacket which was made with laser cutting technology. Girls actress Allison Williams was one of our personal favorites, as she came down the runway in an ethereal one-shouldered gown designed by Peter Pilotto, which was embellished with a number of 3D printed flowers.

Other guests opted for more traditional gowns and suits, which nonetheless played into the theme of Manus x Machina, as they demonstrated the continued relevance of couture and handmade clothing into the age of technology. As we will elaborate on later, the two are practically inextricable. On an anecdotal level, 3D printing made another fun appearance at the Met Gala, as young internet personality Cameron Dallas was gifted with a personalized cupcake which featured his face 3D printed on it. The cupcake was a gift from TopShop, who dressed the young celebrity.

Of course, the entire Met Gala soirée was based around the Costume Institute’s exhibition, Manus x Machina, which itself should be mentioned for its innovative approach to fashion. The exhibition, which was organized in association with Apple—whose own wearable tech is beginning to catch on—officially opened on May 5th, and is showcasing “how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.”

The topic, which is admittedly very broad, as even sewing machines could be considered technology, explores how technologies and machines have been utilized by fashion designers not necessarily as a way to streamline the designing process, but as a creative tool, as a sort of hand in itself. For those familiar with Dutch designer Iris van Herpen’s work, this philosophy may sounds familiar, as she is known for essentially understanding 3D printing technologies as an extension of her own creative hand.

Andrew Bolton, the curator in charge of the Costume Institute explains, “Traditionally, the distinction between the haute couture and prêt-à-porter was based on the handmade and the machine-made, but recently this distinction has become increasingly blurred as both disciplines have embraced the practices and techniques of the other. Manus x Machina challenges the conventions of the hand/machine dichotomy and proposes a new paradigm germane to our age of technology.”

The exhibition itself showcases more than 170 pieces dating from the early 1900s up until the present. With an equal focus on traditional handcrafting techniques like embroidery, featherwork, lacework, and leatherwork, and on more technological techniques like 3D printing the exhibition effectively explores the relationship between the two. Among the designers featured in the exhibit are icons such as Coco Chanel, Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Viktor & Rolf, Comme des Garçons, Karl Lagerfeld, Hussein Chalayan, and two of our favorites, 3D printed fashion pioneers threeASFOUR and Iris van Herpen.

What the exhibit demonstrates is how technologies like 3D printing are effectively reinvigorating and revolutionizing the fashion industry, offering new and novel ways of creating both new materials and previously unthinkable designs. Of course, one of the arguments against the technology is that it takes away some of the personal touches and handcrafted care that go into the making of haute couture clothing, but as we can see from our current fast-fashion system, in which poorly paid laborers are essentially slaving away to make our clothing, the idea of the hand being pure is somewhat complicated.

So, is 3D printing the future of fashion? Considering how the technology is continually opening the doors for designers to explore new materials, new structures, and new designs, it is possible to imagine that additive manufacturing could actually be as revolutionary as even the sewing machine once was for the fashion industry. Perhaps one day, the technology will even go beyond its current haute-couture fashions and 3D printed fashions will be worn by everyone.

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology will be running at the Robert Lehman Wing of the Costume Institute until August 14th, 2016.

Posted in 3D Printing Application

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Honda Provides a Glimpse into a Driverless Future with 3D Printed Model Cars

Mountain Climber - in contextThere are two kinds of people in the world: those who love a good road trip, and those who dread them. Many of us have a love/hate relationship with them. Road trips can be magical – beautiful scenery, good companionship, the excitement of driving off towards new places and new experiences. But then there are the cramped legs and stiff backs, the fatigue, the shady motel rooms, the stretches of road with nothing but cornfields and flatness for hundreds of miles.Then there are the harrowing landscapes, the tiny strips of road with a rock wall on one side and a chasm on the other, when you’re uncomfortably aware that any driver error could mean complete disaster.

That’s where the idea of autonomous cars is so intriguing. Not only could you sit back and watch the scenery go by as your car steers and directs itself across the country, but, if Honda is to be believed, those cars could also lift themselves over rocky obstacles, float across bodies of water, and transform themselves into luxury sleeping quarters. Those are just a few of the ideas presented in the new “Honda Great Journey” ad, an elaborate fantasy of what the road trips of the future could look like with autonomous cars. Take a look:

The imagined journey retraces the route of the earliest humans as theorized by anthropologists – a trip of over 22,000 miles from Kenya to Brazil. To illustrate the trip, Honda enlisted the services of London design studio Map, Japanese studio Mori, Inc., and English prototyping firm Ogle to create a video with seven miniature scale models of possible autonomous cars of the future. The cars lumber across dunes, float past Japanese islands, and even sprout legs to pick their way around rocks on a mountainside. It’s a dreamy, fantastical look at what, according to Honda, could be reality in the very near future.

Jungle Jumper - fully extendedThe model cars were created by Ogle, which specializes in 3D printed models and prototypes for industries including automotive, aerospace, medical and others. The company used their SLA machines to print the tiny, detailed pieces that would make up the model cars, which were then carefully assembled by the model-making team.

“The accuracy demanded of our people and machines was significant. To achieve the required paint finishes and component parts for the models, there was no room for error,” said Dave Bennion, Marketing and Sales Director for Ogle. “Each finish had to be executed to perfection, resulting in a seamless look when being filmed. We are extremely proud to have been selected to produce such intricate and unique models for such a household brand and were delighted to receive such positive feedback.

“Innovative solutions were sought throughout. For example, to create a hammock effect, a net finish was achieved by sourcing multiple net fabrics and lacquering the component parts, so that they were clear, before applying paint over the pattern of the fabric. A considerable amount of time was spent both in design and on the bench to create clearances for paint so that everything would fit and work after the parts had been painted.”

Jungle JumperSome of the small finishing touches were created by hand with stainless steel and copper wire, and the paint jobs required a unique, multi-step process that included the application of a guide coat of paint followed by sandblasting. The finished models were tested nearly as extensively as real vehicles would have been to make sure that they were balanced, strong enough to hold up in their miniaturized terrain, and that all parts were working properly.

The final effect is fascinating, and Honda is very serious when they say that the commercial isn’t just a fantasy – they intend to make these types of vehicles a reality sooner than you might think. The company plans to have driverless cars on the road by 2020, so the road trip as we know it may change very soon. No more getting lost, no more steering with one hand while waving at your friend in the backseat: “Hand me the Cheez-its! No, the CHEEZ-ITS!” Just sitting back, relaxing, and letting your car do the work for you while you admire the scenery.

ogle

Ogle’s model-making team