Customer Installation: NASA 3D Printing with the Markforged Metal X

3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry, and the release of the Markforged Metal X continues to progress the manufacturing revolution. As the first all-inclusive metal 3D printer of its kind, the Metal X makes it possible to create metal parts using a variety of metal materials. It uses ADAM technology, which combines additive manufacturing techniques from composite 3D printing and metal injection molding to create metal parts overnight.

The Markforged Metal X is the first metal 3D printer of its kind, allowing users to create metal parts overnight.

The Metal X was unveiled back in January of 2017, but the completed units didn’t begin shipping until April 2018. Our very own Bruce Bodnyk was lucky enough to be able to install one of the very first available Markforged Metal X printers for NASA.

NASA 3D Printing: Metal X Installation

Installation Process

Installing the entire Markforged Metal X 3D printing system was a five-day process and took place at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to the physical printer, washing and sinter systems must also be installed. The sinter-1 took the most time to install, while the Metal X and wash-1 systems were installed in less than half a day. Installing the Metal X is very similar to installing the other composite 3D printers that Markforged offers.

Installing the Markforged Metal X took five days total, including some component assembly and piping work.

Installing the sinter-1 unit mostly involved assembling the unit. All the pieces were delivered individually to be built and installed on-site. The lengthy installation of this portion was the result of having to run the furnace for long periods of time during the installation. The first “burnout” process alone takes 17 hours, but is required to burn and remove the binder for installation.

The bed leveling process was very similar to that of the Mark X. However, instead of a laser, the height is measured by touching the print head to the build plate and calculating the distance. Once leveled, the bed cannot be detached and will remain level for a long time.

Challenges

The most challenging part of the installation was the piping that connects the gas supply panel to the furnace. NASA was responsible for installing the supply panel, but Bruce was responsible for the piping* from the panel to the furnace. The furnace itself ships with everything that is required for installation, including various lengths of stainless steel tubing, cutting and bending tools, and Swagelock fittings for the ends.

Eiger Software

Using the included Eiger software is extremely straightforward. Users only need to consider how the part is oriented on the printing platform; Eiger does everything else on its own. It even automatically generates where part supports should be placed.

Eiger software significantly simplifies 3D printing metal parts by taking care of everything for you, from supports to rafts to sizing up and more.

On the Metal X, supports and rafts are handled differently than with other composite printers, but Eiger handles it all. Instead of a pleated support structure, the Metal X uses solid supports with a layer of release material between the supports and the actual part. During the sintering process, the release material turns to dust so the supports come right off of the finished part. When it comes to rafts, Eiger can automatically generate and print this structure at around 1/8” thick. Between the raft and the support, up to 50% of the metal used to print a part may be scrap.

Printing Process

The Markforged Metal X uses a heated chamber and build plate to print parts. In contrast to traditional composite manufacturing, parts are attached to the build plate using a combination of special paper and a vacuum hold system instead of glue.

The heated chamber ensures that the metal material stays hot and soft throughout the entire printing process. Without this, the metal particles and wax binder are very brittle. Unlike with composite printers, the metal and release material is fed directly from the spools into the print head, negating the need for Bowden tubes.

However, given how the metal filament is created, it is very delicate. Markforged dictates that the spools always be held in a vertical position, even when off of the machine. Without taking these precautions, it is easy to break the fragile filament.

Interested in Purchasing a Markforged 3D Printer?

This NASA 3D Printing installation will revolutionize how they can create metal parts. Purchasing a 3D printer for manufacturing is a little more complicated than purchasing other products due to the required installation.

We recommend finding a technology partner, such as 3 HTi, to help lead you through the process of selecting, purchasing, and installing a 3D printer. Whether you’re looking for metal 3D printing from the Markforged Metal X or want to purchase a different composite 3D printer like the Mark X, we offer the entire Markforged 3D printer line and are sure to have what you need. Simply contact us with any questions.


*For the NASA project, our 3HTi installer, Bruce, completed the required piping; however, this process is completed on a per-customer basis. The customer can choose to hire a licensed third party to complete the piping.

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