The promise of 3D printing has been kind of a dud. Aside from a few cool Yoda heads and some small plastic pieces, there have been no “indie” players doing much interesting in the space except Markforged. Markforged is a Boston company we featured last year that makes carbon-fiber reinforced plastic parts using traditional 3D-printing techniques. This means the objects they print are stronger, lighter and more resilient than steel.
Now they’ve added “more precise” to that list. The Markforged Mark X is a unique 3D printer that uses laser scanning to ensure pieces that come off the machine are precisely as ordered. In other words, you can send objects that will get the “the strength and quality you’re expecting,” says founder Greg Mark, an aerospace engineer and MIT grad.
“We invented Continuous fiber reinforcement (10 issued patents), and in-process laser-micrometer quality control,” he said. “We’ve also pushed the surface finish of plastic extrusion to approach the surface finish of SLA. Now there’s one machine that combines the strength, surface finish, and quality control to enable end use parts. Supply chains will never be the same.”
Essentially the system prints very fine, very strong objects and constantly tests them for structural accuracy. When you send an object to the $68,000 printer, it ejects exactly the part you requested with exactly the right measurements.
“The in-process quality control is based off a laser micrometer integrated into the print head. With 1 micron Z axis resolution, and 50 micron X/Y resolution, you get high-resolution scans of your part, which you can pull dimensions off of in real time or use to check the accuracy of the part,” said Mark.
The system has two print heads, one for plastic and one for carbon fiber. You can set the hardness of the object while you manufacture it and, more importantly, you can control how light the object is. I’ve seen many Markforged products and they’re as solid as steel but as light as plastic. They’re surprisingly cool. Thanks to the measurement system you can basically send objects to a printer in your office or a thousand miles away and ensure that the object that comes out is exactly as you designed it and has unrivaled strength. In other words, instead of sending a milled piece of steel you can send and print a digital file.
Current Markforged owners will get a discount on the Mark X but, given this thing is almost $70,000, I doubt many hobbyists will pick one up. It’s still one of the coolest implementations of 3D printing I’ve seen, however, and it’s pretty darn close to teleportation.