The Journey to Next Day Metal ... and a Surprise?
This will be a 5-7 minute read, so grab some coffee!
Since shipping the Mark One in 2014, Markforged has remained committed to bettering the user experience, through software enhancements, manufacturing quality, customer support, and engineering of new products and materials. A devotion to quality and a culture of continuous improvement are at the core of our company source code, and are the guiding principles that unite the people here at Markforged. We are obsessive about engineering quality products, and relentless in the pursuit of simpler, smarter, and more robust ways to empower our customers.
When we embarked on the Metal X journey in 2017, we thought we were going out for a leisurely stroll around the block, but part-way through development, we found ourselves barreling headlong down a road into uncharted territory. Metal X was intended to be a simple system that required minimal new engineering; we planned to use a dual-extrusion printer, not unlike the X7, which would extrude a MIM feedstock instead of Onyx, and ceramic release instead of fiber. Then, our customers simply needed to knock on the door of their friendly neighborhood MIM shop, and voila, out came sintered metal parts! Easy, peasy, right?
As it turns out, it wasn’t that simple. Our assumption that our customers had access to local MIM furnaces ready to sinter parts on demand was quickly checked; in order to realize the full benefits of 3D printing metal, most customers needed their own furnaces. Trouble was, commercially available industrial furnaces capable of sintering MIM materials started around half a million dollars and were meant to handle production volumes of tens of thousands of parts per month, with operating cost to match. Most laboratory furnaces, on the other hand, were meant for much smaller material sample coupons, and would not be suitable for many printed parts. To make this a viable solution for our customers at the scale of 3D printing, we would need to design our own furnaces. So that’s what we did.
Since we announced Metal X at CES in 2017, we have gradually introduced new features and materials, improved print quality, dimensional accuracy, print speed, and system usability.
The first Metal X systems, comprised of the Metal X printer, Wash-1, and Sinter-1 came online. Metal X was capable of producing parts in 17-4PH stainless steel.
Later in the year, H13 tool steel joined the materials lineup.
Markforged University is chartered to teach DfAM for composites and metal.
Inconel 625, A2 and D2 tool steels joined the materials lineup.
Eiger gained options to print in solid fill and an ultrafine 50 micron layer height.
Channeling the summer heat, we released the larger, faster Sinter-2 in July.
As the weather gradually cooled in the fall, Sinter-1 also began gradually cool parts, as it learned to run an annealing cycle for H13, A2, and D2 tool steels.
Pure Copper joins the materials lineup.
New software features enabled leak resistance in 17-4PH, H13 and Copper. Print quality is improved through chamber temperature monitoring and gap-filling.
Sinter-2 gained the Express Run capability, which shortened the cycle time for small parts to 17 hours.
The print speed of rafts increase 2-3x, as a precursor to Next Day Metal.
Given the increased sintering capacity of Sinter-2, the printer became the limiting factor on system productivity. In early 2021, we began offering multi-printer bundles to enhance the throughput for Metal X. But more importantly, we were approaching a breakthrough on the primary process bottleneck — print speed.
Today, we are pleased to announce a major milestone on our Metal X journey - Next Day Metal.
Next Day Metal is the culmination of process improvements over the last three years, and the exhaustive testing required to get here. The entire Metal X fleet just got faster through an over-the-air update, and it is now possible to go from art to part in as little as 28 hours.
Faster Metal Printing. Print metal up to 2x faster, with no compromise in quality.
We began experimenting with print speeds, challenging our old assumptions about the correlation between speed and quality. Faster printing has been implemented for 17-4PH, with similar improvements coming soon across the materials lineup. The same printer can now double its throughput, and doubling the number of printers, well, doubles that. A Sinter-2 suddenly becomes much easier to fill.
Improved Wash & Dry Times. Wash and dry time estimates are more accurate for smaller parts, shortening the required debind cycle time.
Ongoing characterization of debind times for parts printed with various settings has led to more accurate models for estimating wash time.
Sinter Overnight with Sinter-2. We built a bigger furnace, then made it faster.
Sinter-2 is one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment that Markforged has ever built. The advanced system of sensors and control modules give us the ability to continue improving it through software, long after the hardware has been shipped and installed. Sinter-2 features a 17-hour Express Run, for overnight sintering of part batches weighing <250g.
Metal X customers, read more about Next Day Metal here.
While having parts faster is certainly nice, Next Day Metal gives you the ability to get parts in with less effort, and perhaps faster, than even your best friend in the machine shop. Check out how Angus 3D Solutions was able to help their customer save their oil and gas customer a big headache and a small fortune with quick-turn parts.
To mark the occasion, we are also unveiling the Metal X Gen 2 printer.
The Metal X (Gen 2) printer retains the same printing functionality as the Gen 1 printer, with focused changes to improve operator safety and the user experience while the machine is actively printing.
The touchscreen has been relocated outside of the print chamber to reduce the risk of contact with moving or heated components. The printer also gains door position sensors that automatically pause active prints when the door is open. Improved chamber insulation shortens warm-up times, and improves print consistency.
A rising tide lifts all boats, and we're just getting started.
The Metal program began over three years ago, and we're thankful for all those who have joined us for the ride. Thank you for providing direct feedback and feature requests, for waiting patiently for new software features and materials, and for teaching us all the new ways Metal X can be better for you.
Welcome to the fleet-wide level up. Next day metal parts are now a reality, and we can’t wait to show you all the other new features we’re building into the Digital Forge.
Buckle up, let’s get printing.
Oh, you made it to the end! As promised, here is a sneak peek at the newest addition to the Industrial Series — the X7 Field Edition.
The X7 Field Edition is a ruggedized, field-deployable industrial 3D printer for tactical response to inventory challenges in remote locations. Building upon the robust aluminum unibody design of Markforged’s flagship X7, the X7 FE is equipped with a rotomolded high-impact polyethylene Pelican case to protect it during transportation through harsh environments. The case also contains all the tools, spare parts, and materials required for maintenance and repair operations in the field. The X7 FE allows the Digital Forge to be deployed anywhere in the world, helping service members, engineers, and operators reinvent the way they address the evolving challenges across an ever-changing global supply chain.
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