Stratasys gets into the news twice today with a mysterious announcement of a previously-unknown 3D metal printing process.
One of the hugest gaps in the 3D printing world is the ongoing absence of a metal 3D printing option from Stratasys. One of the largest 3D printing companies in the world, with multiple 3D printing options and services has not offered its own 3D metal process.
That gap, and the rapidly increasing interest in 3D metal printing by industry, led to an agreement between Stratasys and Desktop Metal to permit Stratasys’ reseller network to sell Desktop Metal equipment. Why? Because Stratasys resellers are “captive”: they can sell ONLY Stratasys equipment. Since Stratasys did not offer a metal option, these powerful resellers likely felt left behind in the 3D metal printing boom. The deal with Desktop Metal allowed them at least something in that market.
But that situation may have caused Stratasys to get going on their own metal process, which seems to be hinted at in today’s mysterious announcement. They say:
[Stratasys] announced today the development of a new metal additive manufacturing platform, designed to become a viable manufacturing technology to displace conventional methods for short-run manufacturing.
The Company’s new technology platform is being developed to directly address the needs of customers whose requirements include the production of pilot-series parts, small batch manufacturing during product ramp up and end-of-life, and customized, lightweight, and complex parts.
The innovative Stratasys platform has been developed internally over the past several years, incorporating the Company’s proprietary jetting technology. The platform was designed from inception to provide the values of additive manufacturing for short-run production, while overcoming material limitations of currently available metal-based additive manufacturing systems. With this new technology, Stratasys believes it will offer customers a new ability to short-run manufacture metal parts made with commonly used powder metallurgy, starting with aluminum, at an economically competitive cost-per-part and throughput, with easy to implement post-processing and high part quality.
That’s about all we know about this new process, which we will definitely see first hand at Rapid+TCT in Texas later next month.
But based on this announcement it seems that they’ve somehow adapted their PolyJet process to produce metal objects. Some speculation on how this might work:
- A binder substrate is jetted out in layers, very similar to the existing PolyJet process
- A second pass over the layer deposits fine metal powder onto the sticky, still-fluid binder
- A third pass over the layer uses UV light to solidify the layer’s binder material
- The printed part is then subjected to a process to eliminate the binder
- The final part is sintered in a separate furnace to fuse the metal particles together
If this is their new process, I’m interested to know how they can achieve accuracy similar to their PolyJet prints.
As you might imagine, we know nothing of the price, availability, specifications, machine models or literally anything else about this technology.
It may be that Stratasys is announcing this technology very early to “join the crowd” at the 3D metal printing table. But they’ll need to deliver a product that works and in a reasonable time frame.
We’re very interested to see this new process in action.