2019 year in review: looking back, and ahead
With the launch of two groundbreaking new products - Fiber, the world's first continuous fiber printer to utilize micro automated fiber placement, and the Shop System, the world’s first binder jetting system designed for machine shops, and three new materials - 316L stainless steel, 4140 chromoly steel and H13 tool steel - Desktop Metal customers can now produce a broad array of parts for a host of applications, from oil and gas drilling to the automotive and tooling industries.
Q: Can you recap what you see as the high points of the past year for Desktop Metal?
Ric: This was a very exciting year - we had high temperature thermoplastics coming to the mainstream, for the first time aerospace-grade continuous fiber is available with micro-automated fiber placement. And we made metal accessible for short-run production, so you don’t have to spend $1 million on a laser system, so machine shops can afford it.
Globally, there are almost 1 million sites with CNC equipment that produce small metal parts...for the first time we have something that’s in the price range of people would consider for that market, starting at $150,000 with the Shop System.
Q: Can you look ahead to 2020 and beyond? This coming year seems like it might be an inflection point for the industry - is that how you see it?
Ric: Really, there’s no such thing as inflection or break point when you’re talking about this kind of technology. What this next year will be about is continued growth in this industry.
Why is the growth in 3D printing so gradual? It is what I call a long boom. Think of electric vehicles - why aren’t they everywhere yet? If you have 500 million vehicles in a fleet, it takes maybe 10 to 15 years to turn that fleet of vehicles globally. So, if you wanted to switch everything to EV, you’d have to have every car being sold EV for 15 years. That’s going to take a long time, and that’s the same analogy that we have in manufacturing because there is a huge installed base of other processes.
We’ve had a decade of 30 percent compounding growth or more on average in the additive industry, and we’re getting ready for a second decade of 30 percent growth. The manufacturing industry is worth $12 trillion - additive isn’t even a fraction of that today. I see additive growing from $10 billion to $100 billion in the next 15 years. That is the kind of arc that the additive industry will soon enter and grow as this technology diffuses into every factory throughout this century.
We haven’t even scratched the surface, and that’s why I’m particularly excited about the next frontier of additive.”
Q: Is industry seeing the benefits of metal 3D printing? Which industries have been quick to adopt the technology?
Ric: There’s no one giant industry for 3D printing. We have worked with seven of the top 10 carmakers on different products to one degree or another, but our customers are also hydraulics suppliers, and faucet manufacturers and tool suppliers and medical companies - it’s a very horizontal tool.
But we haven’t even scratched the surface, and that’s why I’m particularly excited about the next frontier of additive. In this next decade, we are entering an exponential curve because the technology is more affordable, there are more use cases and more supply of specialized print materials that open up the application space. This enables new markets, which are going from tooling and prototyping now to end-use parts and spare parts as things mature. Over 95% of spend in manufacturing is end use parts and spare parts.
Q: Are there still obstacles to be overcome before we see widespread adoption of metal 3D printing?
Ric: The reality about 3D printing is that, while it can beat the tolerances of many casting processes, it can’t yet achieve the precision of something like CNC machining, where accuracy may be an order of magnitude tighter.
However, there are applications, such as precision surgical instruments and machinery, where our customers are pushing the envelope of our systems.
Overall, though, the entire industry is working to mature applications. Every company is working on issues of how to make it more affordable, how to make it more accessible and how to improve tolerances and material properties. And every time you launch a new material you have interest from the market in doing new things that you couldn’t do before.
...It’s so exciting to see the variety of applications and how horizontal this technology can be, especially once you leave the realm of prototyping and tooling.”
Q: What does the next year look like for Desktop Metal?
Ric: I think 2020 is a year where we focus 100 percent on making our customers successful and developing unique applications for our technology.
Every day, I’m surprised when I see the types of parts our customers are making - it’s so exciting to see the variety of applications and how horizontal this technology can be, especially once you leave the realm of prototyping and tooling.
I think, in aggregate, in the coming years we’re going to see very good adoption...so we just have to keep our focus on making great products to make our customers successful.