This week startup Digital Alloys received significant investment to develop their new 3D metal printing process.
Digital Alloys is a spin off of Massachusetts-based New Valence Robotics, who provide automated 3D printing solutions. The spinoff will permit investment and focus for the development of a mysterious multimaterial metal 3D printing process.
Information about Digital Alloys is hard to come by, but let’s start with their own description of the company’s activities:
Digital Alloys, Inc. develops high-speed, multi-metal additive manufacturing systems that print production quality parts, in almost any metal, at a fraction of the cost of other systems. The dramatic cost advantages of the Digital Alloys system make 3D metal printing economical for a greatly expanded variety of applications. In addition, our systems have the unique ability to mix multiple metals in a solid part, enabling customers to push the limits of design and create new products with optimized thermal, electrical, magnetic, and mechanical properties.
There are a couple of dramatic points in their description.
The first one is “multi-metal”. This could mean one of two things. The simple interpretation is that their equipment could be loaded with different materials, in the same way that you can change materials on a filament machine by swapping the spool. That’s not particularly interesting, as almost every 3D metal printer can use different metals by simply loading the powder canister with alternative powders.
However, if they mean simultaneous multi-metal, then that’s quite another thing. I am not aware of any other 3D metal printing process that can accomplish this. If true, it could mean you might be able to print objects containing different metals in a single print operation. Or, more interestingly, you may be able to mix multiple input feedstocks to dynamically create alloys of metal on the fly, in much the same way that Stratasys mixes different resins on their Connex equipment.
Perhaps this is why the name of the company is “Digital Alloys”.
The second point is they say the system operates at a “fraction of the cost of other systems”. This is vitally important as current 3D metal printing processes are fantastically expensive, and thus financially feasible only for industries where there are enormous costs to existing parts, such as the aerospace market.
If their process indeed lowers the cost of 3D metal printing, then that would financially enable the entry a number of new industries into the 3D world and perhaps very dramatically grow use of 3D printing worldwide.
Those are very bold goals and it remains to be seen whether they succeed. There have been grand claims previously by others that resulted in only minor gains.
The prospects for success may be better than you might think, however, based on their investment of USD$5M in a “Series A” investment from Kholsa Ventures. A Series A investment is considered the first significant investment after “Seed Rounds”, which typically are done during foundational development. In other words, the Series A suggests they actually have something in their labs. Something the investors feel worthy of USD$5M.
Meanwhile, my final observation is that 2017 is turning out to be a pivotal year in the world of 3D Metal Printing. Why? It’s because we have a face-off brewing between the forces of the existing 3D metal printing players (such as EOS, Arcam, Concept Laser, Renishaw, etc.) versus a panoply of new entrants equipped with entirely new technologies (such as HP, Desktop Metal, XJet and now Digital Alloys).
Who will succeed? It’s totally unclear. The vast experience of the existing players could provide them an advantage over the yet unproven technologies in the newcomers. Or perhaps the advantages of the new technologies will prevail.