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Markforged and 3D Metal Printing

At the moment, 3D Printing is considered the pinnacle of all printing technologies but even for this top-level printing technology, the holy grail of 3D printing are Metal 3D Printers, and Markforged printers like the Markforged Metal X are among the best and most recognized models in the industry.

The first patent for Metal 3D printing was filed back in the 1990s by a German-based company EOS. EOS’s 3D printer was based on the DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) a type of Power Bed Fusion Category of 3D printers. And Although Metal 3D printing technology is the least developed in the 3D industry, it’s beginning to catch on and one company making these game-changing roles in the industry is the Markforged.

To every designer, developer, producer, and end-user, Markforged is a company that has changed the game, when it comes to printing better, more reliable parts. Markforged’s engineers have developed innovative technologies for 3D printing parts that are pushing the frontiers of this industry.

This discussion will provide you a little background into Markforged and their successful 3D printers, it’s features and properties, and what you should expect from owning one.

Markforged Company Overview

The founder Greg Mark is a firm believer in the additive manufacturing approach as a response to the growing need of the global industrial sector. His company Markforged was started in 2013 to promote this particular idea.  

Greg Mark comes from a background in the manufacturing of auto-sport parts and has since tried his hands in other ventures including the successful Markforged.

Now, it’s with his capable leadership that Markforged has continuously pushed the limits of additive manufacturing over their seven years of existence. Emphasis placed on using 3D printing on new materials like metals and composites, creating innovative technologies, and continually iterating on their technology and processes.

The technological advances are possible only through a joint effort in advanced cloud computing, state-of-the-art materials science, and industrial design.

Their goal is to improve the productivity of the manufacturing system by better and quicker ways of producing usable prototypes, equipment and fixtures, and end-use parts — at scale.

Markforged 3D metal printers are but one of their products, with the others being their software (Eiger), 3D Carbon Fiber Printers, Spare parts, Materials, and Consumables.

Markforged 3D printer

Markforged 3D Metal Printers

The Markforged 3D metal printer is based on metal powder, and its unique features make it the preferred type of metal stock although it is difficult and hazardous to handle in its raw state.

Metal powder is used by a great majority of metal 3D printing technologies. So, the major difference between metal 3D printer types relates to how they fuse the powder into metal parts.

These methods vary widely from the use of high-energy lasers to the fusion of loose powder to the extrusion of bound metal powder filaments.

The production process for the Markforged Metal X additive incorporates Metal Injection Molding (MIM) and Fused Filament Production (FFF) technologies into Bound Powder Extrusion.

The Markforged Mark Two on the other hand blends both the nylon filament and the composite material filament to make your 3D prints.

The Markforged Metal Additive Manufacturing Process

The Additive manufacturing process involved in Markforged metal 3D printers can be divided into four stages:

  • Slicing
  • Printing
  • Washing
  • Post Processing

Slicing

Just like in plastic 3D printing, 3D-printed sections of Markforged metal starts with an STL. You can export this solid body file from any CAD system, or build it with a 3D scanner.

After which you’re free to continue by uploading the STL to Eiger (Markforged cloud slicing software) or any other slicing program for the appropriate metal arrangement and printing.

Printing

After slicing the CAD file to distinct layers, the main 3D printing process begins and involves building each component layer by layer with the aid of the Markforged 3D printer.

Markforged 3D printers do the printing based on printing process like the Fused Filament Production (FFF) of the Metal X, and it’s based on this method that the 3D printer does its job.

Washing

Washing is mostly the simplest part of the Markforged 3D printing process and it happens after the objects have been printed by the printer. The washing process involves using a solvent to dissolves much of the binder material in the entire part by digging deeper into the part as it extracts more polymer.

Wash time is measured automatically by the Eiger software and is done by the Wash-1 drying tub before the printed objects are sent for sintering.

Sintering turns a component from thinly bound metal powder into a metal portion of its own. The component is heated from room temperature to around 85 percentof the melting point of the metal in a mixture of inert and mixed air, after which the printed part is cooled gradually.

Once the parts are washed, you move the parts to the Wash-1 drying tub, where they are dried air before sintering to be cleaned with solvent.

printed with markforged
All printed by Markforged printers

Post Processing

Components of Markforged 3D printers can be post-processed in just the same way as regular metal parts are. There are however three basic post processing methods:

Heat Treatment

Processes for heat treatment differ from metal to metal. Although parts can be used right out of the sintering furnace, several parts printed with Metal X need heat treatment to boost strength, rigidity, elongation, and hardness. Heat treatment also helps you to “tailor” a part’s qualities.

Post Machining

Post machining is a critical step in the Markforged 3D printing as it improves the tolerance of the printed object. An added benefit of printing with Markforged printers is that its objects can be easily surface-machined.  

Sanding/Polishing

Sanding/Polishing of printed metal parts is used to improve the surface quality of printed objects. However, this must be done with great care, not to remove too many materials during the process of sanding or polishing as it risks blowing through the outer shell of the object.

Markforged metal X printer
Markforged Metal X Printer

Markforged Metal X

The Markforged Metal X is a 3D printer that provides printed objects easily from the design stage to fully functional metal parts. The Metal X is built with the fifth-generation extrusion and motion system and also uses advanced failure detection tools and cloud monitoring.

It utilizes 4 levels of machinery in its printing process which is based on the additive manufacturing process discussed above. The four levels of machinery have been covered and include:

  • Metal X:  used for metal 3D printing.
  • Wash-1: used for washing.
  • Sinter-2:
  • Sinter-1

Other Types of Markforged Printers

Markforged 3D printers are made to work on two different categories of raw materials, which are metal and composite.

The Markforged Printers available for composite 3D printings are made in two different levels:

  • The Industrial Series
  • The Desktop Series

The industrial composite 3D printing series include the following:

Markforged X3

The Markforged X3 is a 3D plastic printer that uses reinforcement of chopped carbon fiber filaments to create pieces that are 20% stronger and 40% steeper than ABS.

The Markforged X3 is designed to work efficiently with motor encoders and a 3D scanner with a laser micrometer. It’s therefore exceptionally precise, always consistent, and repeatable.

Markforged X5

The Markforged X5 is built with a dual nozzle print system, ultra-flat gantry system, kinematic bed coupling, motor encoders, and calibration laser that, when combined, gives the X5 its ability to weave a strand of continuous fiberglass throughout a part to make it as strong as metal.

Markforged X7

The Markforged X7 employs a strengthened dual nozzle print system that supports Continuous Carbon Fiber, and Kevlar reinforcement. Unique features like accelerated parts production through its turbo print are some of the features unique to the Markforged X7.

3D metal printer

Technical Features of the Industrial series:

  • Build Volume                     –              330 mm x 270 mm x 200 mm
  • Layer Height                       –              50 μm
  • Technology                         –              FFF & CFF
  • Display                                  –              4.3” Touchscreen
  • Machine Weight               –              48 kg (106 lbs)
  • Media Cartridge               –              Plastic Composite Filament, Continuous Composite Filament, Kevlar
  • Software Delivery            –              Cloud-Based, Local Storage, Fully On-Premise (optional) 

Markforged Onyx One

The Markforged Onyx One 3D Printer is capable of printing stiff and dimensionally stable engineering grade parts with twice the strength of other 3D printed plastics. The Onyx 3D printer produces a beautiful surface finish that’s suitable for industrial applications.

Markforged Onyx Two

The Onyx Pro just like the X5 employs the use of fiberglass composite parts but at 1/20th the cost. The Onyx Pro makes industrial-grade reliability and accuracy into a machine that can fit on your desktop.

Markforged Mark Two

The Markforged Mark Two 3D composite printer takes things a step further as it employs the use of materials like Kevlar, HSHT Fiberglass (High-Strength High-Temperature), to the Carbon fiber and fiberglass materials.

Mark Two delivers high-performance 3D parts straight from its print bed with the aid of its dual nozzle that’s made of stainless steel.

Properties of Markforged Printers

High-Strength Printing

The Markforged 3D printers can achieve high-strength print with unparalleled stiffness, strength, and durability of its printed parts. This is made possible by the fact that the Markforged printers reinforce its printed parts with composite fiber while 3D printing them.

Range of Materials

The Markforged 3D printers can print with a wide range of materials both metallic and composite. Metallic materials that are suitable for the Markforged printers include, tools steel, Inconel, Copper. While non-metallic materials that are suitable with the Markforged printers include onyx, carbon fiber, fiberglass, and several others.

Easy-To-Use

Markforged printers are built with 3D printing Eiger software that comes with all their printers. This inbuilt software is flexible, intuitive, and easy to use. So the printer is suitable for both 3D printing novices and experts in the field.  

Touchscreen Interface

Besides the user-friendly printing software, Markforged printers are built with a touchscreen display that makes it easy to use the functions of the 3D printers and to connect to Wi-Fi, or start prints and manage other aspects of your printer. 

Cloud Computing

Now, the exploits of the Markforged 3D printing software is equally matched with their powerful and easy to use cloud computing and is supported by Eiger software. Which allows for storage and collaborations to be possible.

Precision Design

Furthermore, Markforged printers like the Mark Two have print bed clicks with 10-micron accuracy. With this element, you can pause a print, add components, remove the bed, click the bed back in, and also continue the print in the exact same position.

Fast & Affordable

The Markforged 3D printers are faster and more affordable than its competitors. And this was made possible by the replacement of critical machined metal parts of the printer with fiberglass composite parts which are 1/20th the original cost. This feature is the sweet spot of strength and affordability, one that’s not common for 3D metal printers.

Continuous Filament Fabrication

They provide you the unique opportunity of forming printed parts from a combination of two different materialsallowing you to maximize a material’s incredible strength and versatility. It also uses a continuous filament fabrication process to help users print parts that are stiffer and stronger based than typical 3D printed objects.

Industrial Grade Hardware

Markforged printers create parts/products that are all industrial grade certified and not just commercial grades. Their desktop printers are based on the award-winning 3D printing platform, that brings the precision engineering of our industrial printers to the desktop. 

Printed Parts Quality

To sum up, every Markforged desktop 3D printer is built to accommodate the needs of designers and engineers accurately. This is why great emphasis is placed on the printer’s ability to deliver the highest quality of printed parts, that’s precise, repeatable, and strong.

Metal impeller
Metal impeller printed with Markforged printer

Materials Markforged Printers Can Print

As we’ve said earlier, Markforged printers are capable of printing on two base material surfaces which are metals and composite. Examples of composites that can be printed with the Markforged printers include:

Carbon Fiber  

Carbon fiber has the highest weight to strength ratio. Carbon Fiber reinforcement is widely used for pieces that replace machined aluminum because it’s 6 times stronger than the aluminum and 18 times stiffer than Onyx.

markforged onyx
Markforged Onyx

Onyx 

Onyx yields rigid, solid & precise sections. Onyx can be reinforced with any continuous fiber 1.4 times stronger and stiffer than ABS. Onyx sets the standard for surface finishing, chemical resistivity, and resistance to heat.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is our continuous fiber entry level which provides high strength at an accessible price. Fiberglass reinforcement results in powerful, durable instruments 2.5 times stronger and eight times stiffer than Onyx.

Other composite materials include the Kevlar, HSHT Fiberglass.

Examples of metals

17-4 PH Stainless Steel

The Markforged 3D printer handles the SAE Type 630 stainless steel, a grade of martensitic precipitation hardened stainless steel. The result of its 3D printed object is a combination of high strength, corrosion resistance, and hardened object. The 17-4 PH Stainless Steel is used in a wide variety of manufacturing applications. 

H13 Tool Steel

H13 tool steel is flexible hot worked steel made from chromium and molybdenum. The H13 object created by the Markforged printers are wear resistance, excellent toughness, and heat resistant. They also excel in high temperatures.

A2 Tool Steel

A2 Tool Steel is versatile, air-hardening tool steel featuring good toughness and excellent heat treatment dimensional stability. Can be air-hardened up to 58 HRC. They also have excellent impact resistance and can be used to form punches and dies.

D2 Tool Steel

D2 Tool Steel is a versatile high-carbon, high-chrome, air-hardening tool steel that is characterized in the microstructure by a relatively high achievable hardness and numerous, large, chromium-rich alloy carbides. Can be air-hardened to 60 HRC; trades toughness for hardness and abrasion resistance. Great for cutting tools and dies.

Inconel 625

Inconel Alloy 625 is a superalloy based on nickel, which possesses high strength properties and high-temperature tolerance. A proprietary nickel alloy that excels in high temperatures and corrosive environments. Used in automotive and aerospace.

Copper

Copper is best for thermal and electrical conductivity. They can be used in printing heat sinks, custom conductive elements, and other geometrically complex parts.

316L Stainless Steel

Markforged 3D printers can also print stainless steel. When this is done, the Metal X7 will be one of the few printers capable of printing this metal material. Stainless steel is robust, resistant to corrosion, and a perfect choice for high-stress situations. An excellent choice for marine applications.

Titanium Ti6Al4V

Another capability of Markforged printers still in development is the Titanium printing capability. The Titanium Ti-6Al-4V is the Grade 5 titanium alloy nominal composition and is the most commonly used form of titanium alloy. It has a superior strength-to-weight ratio. Used in aerospace, medical, and other high-performance fields

Markforged Printers Software

When it comes to software, Markforged is breaking new grounds in developing software suitable for Artificial Intelligence. First of all, their Eiger software is the main software of the Markforged, is powerful and easy to use, from your web browser, it imports and slices your 3D models. The Eiger software is suitable for printer management that’s suitable for a cloud-based platform.

software

Though set to be introduced to the market sometime this year, the Blacksmith software is Markforged’s powerful machine intelligent program that ensures that the right parts are created every time. The Blacksmith software is made to learn throughout the lifespan of your machine and use the information to improve your use of the product.

Benefits of Markforged Printers

Usability 

Every printer, washer, and the furnace comes standard with cloud-connected software and a 4.3 “touchscreen, providing a very user-friendly printer for you.

High-Quality Build

Markforged sets the standard in build quality, featuring an all-aluminum unibody and kinematic bed coupling, which helps with the build quality of printed objects.

Built to ensure Safety of Users 

The construction chamber fully enclosed an ultra-quiet motion system, and storage of material controlled by humidity. This makes it very safe for users and the machine itself.

Versatile Software

With automatic version control, real-time fleet management & cloud-based collaboration, Eiger is the most advanced 3D printing software available worldwide.

Effective Waste Management

Tracking material use and detecting materials from outside help monitor your printers and reduce waste, making it very friendly to the environment.

Up-To-Date Today

Regular over-the-air updates mean your Markforged products keep on improving, courtesy of it’s online connection.

Continuous Filament Fabrication 

Composite parts formed from the combination of two materials are incredibly robust and versatile.

Its Cost Effective Nature

Next, it’s at the price that Markforged really outdid their competitors as their 3D printers are usually 10 times less expensive other traditional metal additive manufacturing machines and also, 100 timeless expensive than traditional metal fabrication techniques like machining and casting.

For example, the Metal X a top-tier metal printer only costs about $100,000 which is much lower than all but two of ANIWAA’s list for best printers.

Areas of Application

Like most of the other 3D printing technologies, the role of the Markforged printers is still expanding and may include more industries than they do today. But that said, at the moment, the core industries where this technology is applied is in the aerospace, medical, petroleum, automotive, and other light and heavy manufacturing-based industries and business.

Markforged and Solidface

Obviously, Markforged printers are incredible but they can be of little help if there’s no prepared CAD design for printing and this is provided by advanced design software like Solidface.

Solidface provides one of the most suitable platforms to accommodate Markforged’s specified needs including the STI file extension format.

Also, Solidface unlike any other design and CAD software has a cloud-based integrated platform that doesn’t just interconnect different computer systems but also the Markforged printers, all thanks  to the help of the Eiger software.  

Conclusion: Markforged Printers

Today, Markforged is one of the top leaders in the 3D printing industry, and they’re well-known for their continuous carbon-fiber based machine. The efficiency of their printers has had a trickle-down effect on the manufacturing industry, especially as it relates to the production of composite and metallic parts.  

Markforged 3D printers are made with relevant software, parts, technologies, media cartridge, etc. and also, with the aid of their cloud-based Eiger and Blacksmith software, Markforged printers can collaborate with CAD easily.

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