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Behind the Scenes with the Markforged Metal X: An interview with Greg Mark

Posted on Feb 06, 2018 by Cullen Hikene

In honor of 3Diligent CEO Cullen Hilkene’s presentation at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing Conference today, where he’ll be talking about innovative metal additive technologies, here’s our recent interview with Greg Mark, CEO of Markforged.

The Markforged Metal X is the first printer to use extrusion process for metal printing, promising new speed for a wide range of materials. The Metal X uses innovative design breakthroughs to overcome the challenges with adapting extrusion process to metal materials.

Markforged CEO Greg Mark

In this email interview between 3Diligent CEO, Cullen Hilkene, and Markforged CEO, Greg Mark, we find out more of what to expect from this exciting new printer.

The Metal X is a breakthrough technology helping usher in metals to the material extrusion process.  Now, lots of folks never thought extrusion would be possible because molten metal passing through a metal nozzle seemed like a recipe for solid clogged nozzles.  Explain how it works…

Rather than extruding molten metal, Markforged has developed a new end-to-end process built on Metal Injection Molding (MIM). It begins with metal powder bound in plastic and formed into a filament. The exact same material from the MIM process. We then put it through a nozzle and print it into the part shape, one layer at a time. After printing, you follow standard MIM post-processing: just sinter the part in a furnace, burn off the binder and solidify the powder into a fully dense metal part. You can learn more at

For readers less familiar with MIM, can you speak a bit more about this powder bound in plastic works and the material options it makes available?

We combine 60% metal powder with a proprietary mix of well-known MIM binder materials. The best part is that we’ll support hundreds of metals, including 17-4 Stainless Steel when the Metal X ships. We’re also looking at titanium, aluminum, inconel and tool steels.

What level of density is achievable with the process?

The density is not achieved until you actually sinter the part – after extrusion, it’s still powder bound in plastic. Post sintering you can achieve densities over 98% – and the parts can then be hot isostatic pressed to full density.

Could you share a bit more about the sintering phase?

Of course- the sintering step is really a crucial part in the ADAM technology. Sintering the parts burns off the plastic binders we use in the printing and causes the metal powder to diffuse together, yielding a solid metal part.

What sorts of tolerances are achievable with this process?  Do they scale up with the size of the part?

The Metal X is printing parts near net shape, just like cast parts. We’re talking a few percentage points by size, or a few thousand per inch. Of course, if you have a critical dimension you’re still going to need to machine it.

What size parts are achievable with this process – both in green state and sintered?

The max part size is 250 x 183 x 150 mm post sintering. The sintering process shrinks the part by around 17% in each direction. So, pre-sintering, the build volume is 300 x 220 x 180mm. For more information, definitely check out our Metal X datasheet, which you can read here.

What sort of surface finish can people expect? 

Markforged is known for best in class surface finishes – that’s because we design the full system in house from materials, to hardware, to software.

What is the range of materials possible at this time and in the pipeline?

The Metal X will ship with the capability to print 17-4 and 316L stainless steel, but we’ve got all sorts of other metals planned. This is all in addition to the wide range of materials – composites, carbon fiber, Onyx – we deliver with our existing series of printers. Our team at Markforged is already working on titanium, inconel, aluminum and tool steel, and that’s just the beginning.

Are there specific capabilities of the technology that you’d like to highlight?  Beyond the range of metals you can offer, for instance, I’d think the ability to hollow out walls with a honeycomb or lattice structure is a unique advantage vs. powder bed technologies…

One thing to note is that the Metal X is going to deliver captive infill metal parts. These are fully encased lattice structures inside metal, possible for the first time through a 3D printer. This means the Metal X can print lighter parts with less material while preserving strength characteristics, something potentially vital for the aerospace and automotive industries.

Are there core applications where you’re seeing your early users get maximum value from the technology?

Everything that we’ve built at Markforged is designed to make elements of manufacturing quicker and more affordable than traditional processes. Whether tooling, prototyping, or mass producing, the Metal X allows the user to get parts tomorrow, not in 4-6 weeks. And our customers already estimate over 90% savings on the cost of parts compared to machining or casting when using Metal X.

Anything else you want to share that we didn’t touch on?

We make printers at Markforged, but at our heart we’re a process company. Humans have been pouring metal into molds to make things for millennia, yet technology has since advanced nearly every industry on the planet – the way we consume media, the way we communicate, or the way we access services. But manufacturing has somehow avoided major disruption since the dawn of the first assembly line. What if you could debug hardware in production? What if engineers could prototype overnight instead of over the course of months?  We’re engineering the very processes, and the 3D printers, that can accelerate the massive adoption of additive manufacturing.

Greg – thank you again for taking the time for this interview. The Metal X is indeed a great addition to the 3D Printing market and we look forward to working with our customers to leverage its capabilities.

 

 

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