By Brian Heater
Desktop Metal has already earned a number of fans with its 3D printed metal technology — Lowe’s, Caterpillar and BMW were all among its earliest clients. As first noted by CNBC, the Massachusetts-based startup is also getting some healthy monetary support, adding $115 million of venture funds to its coffers this week. The Series D features a number of high profile names, including New Enterprise Associates, GV (formerly Google Ventures), GE Ventures, Future Fund and Techtronic Industries, the holdings company that owns Hoover U.S. and Dirt Devil.
Founded in 2013 by four MIT professors, Desktop Metal isn’t the first company to bring metal 3D printing to market, but it’s probably the most efficient. By its own measure, the company’s machines are able to print objects at up to 100-times the speed of their competitors. That’s good news for those clients using Studio, the prototyping machine the company announced last year — but even more useful for those planning to use the upcoming Production, a system designed to bring the technology to manufacturing.
Speed has been of the main bottlenecks in mainstreaming 3D printing for manufacturing — metal or otherwise. The Production system isn’t going to replace wide scale manufacturing any time soon, but it will make it a more realistic possibility for smaller speciality parts, with its ability to print 500 cubic inches of metal per hour. According to CEO Ric Fulop, that works out to millions of parts per year for a given machine.
“You don’t need tooling,” he tells TechCrunch. “You can make short runs of production with basically no tooling costs. You can change your design and iterate very fast. And now you can make shapes you couldn’t make any other way, so now you can lightweight a part and work with alloys that are very, very hard, with very extreme properties.”
The list of companies that have embraced the $50,000+ Surface is pretty diverse. Automakers like BMW are using it to prototype products, and the local robotics community has also been extremely excited about the device’s ability to print in a broad range of alloys. For smaller companies without access to big machining warehouses, prototyping with metal is a pretty big pain point.
“One of the benefits for this technology for robotics is that you’re able to do lots of turns,” says Fulop. “Unless you’re iRobot with the Roomba, you’re making a lot of one-off changes to your product.”
Desktop Metal is still pretty small, at around 150 people — mostly engineers, according to Fulop. Along with R&D, this latest funding round will go a ways toward increasing that staff and reach, with plans to extend to more markets, including Europe and Asia.