Traditional metal manufacturing requires expensive machinery, plenty of floor space and risky physical labor. But a Boston area start-up called Desktop Metal has developed 3-D printers that can produce metal objects safely, in smaller spaces and for a relatively low cost.
According to Desktop Metal CEO and founder Ric Fulop, the company just closed a $115 million round of venture funding to deliver its first batch of machines to customers within the U.S. The series D investment brings Desktop Metal's total capital raised to $212 million to-date.
Investors in Desktop Metal range from venture firms betting on advanced technologies, including NEA and Lux Capital, to corporations likely to use the startup's technology in their own operations. Corporate backers of Desktop Metal include BMW, GE Ventures, GV (formerly known as Google Ventures), Lowe's, and Techtronic Industries, which owns Hoover, Dirt Devil, Ryobi and other power tool and appliance brands.
A tech investor with NEA, Dayna Grayson said, "This team developed a product that solves a very technologically complex problem in about 18 months. We re-upped our investment seeing their ability to execute, and because we believe there's a very large, addressable market here."
Last year, the entire additive manufacturing industry produced $5.1 billion in revenue, with just about $1 billion of that attributed to metal 3-D printing, according to the Wohlers Report 2016. But additive manufacturing is expect to grow across the board, Grayson said, especially in aerospace and automotive.
Desktop Metal's machines work by binding metal and ceramic powders into a soft polymer, first. They extrude layers of this mixture to make an object, which is then placed into a furnace for what the company calls "microwave-enhanced sintering." The polymer burns off there, and the metal fuses together without losing its shape. Ceramic layers keep metal parts from fusing wherever a designer wanted to separate pieces.
The printed objects are ready to use out of the furnace, no retooling required, Fulop said. They are comparable to cast metal parts in terms of structural integrity.
Desktop Metal is shipping its first Studio system printer to customers this fall. The system, which can be purchased for about $120,000 or leased for about $3,250 per month, is designed for engineers who want to rapidly develop and test hardware prototypes in their office or lab.
The Desktop Metal Production system will ship next year to businesses that mass-produce metal parts and want to use 3-D printers on the factory floor, and will cost somewhere around $420,000.
Desktop Metal, which employs about 150 full-time today and is based in Burlington, Mass., has focused on the U.S. market so far. Fulop said, "We have seen demand from all around the world. But the U.S. is still where we see the most, and that is to be expected. This country is very much the leader in research, design and innovation for hardware, whether you're talking about autonomous vehicles or consumer electronics."
Given the new funding round, Desktop Metal will explore international expansion in 2018. But one of the CEO's goals is to give the U.S. manufacturing sector a boost.