SAN DIEGO, CA (SolidWorks World 2014) MarkForg3D, a little startup of seven people, made its public debut in front of 5,600 at SolidWorks World before what may be the 2nd biggest concentration of mechanical engineers in the world1.
As a rule, engineers don't get excited easily. But as SolidWorks CTO Gian Paulo Bassi tried to bend a MarkForg3D carbon fiber part on the main stage -- and couldn't -- the engineers lit up Twitter with their appreciation.
"I would have killed to have that to make parts for aircraft interiors," says one drooling engineer.
From then on, MarkForg3D's little booth on the back of the show floor, which may have had their first and only 3D printer and most of its employees, was swamped by engineers who wanted to know more, to try to bend the part, to see how the Mark One -- which with its fancy brushed aluminum chassis with more in common with an Apple laptop than a 3D printer -- was making parts. Oh, please let me into your world, they would be saying, a world where strong stiff light parts emerge cleanly out of my computer, ready to to be inserted into planes and cars, without the multi-step process, the sticky mess of hot epoxy, expensive molds, itchy mats of fiberglas...
Asked how he fared in his first public showing to thousands of engineers, Greg Mark, CEO of MarkForg3D said "with a double degree from MIT, I think I can hold my own." Greg has a masters and a bachelors in engineering from the nation's most esteemed engineering institution, which along with Stanford, seems to be one of the main checkpoints for venture capital funding. VCs also tend to follow previous investments when they try to catch the latest tech wave. MarkForg3D has done that, too, already receiving funding from the same VCs that funded SolidWorks.
So great is the promise of MarkForg3D. It is quite possibly the biggest breakthrough in 3D printing since rapid prototypes came out in metal. But while metal laser sintering machines can set you back five figures, the MarkForg3D is priced at $5,000. However, you can't buy one now. MarkForg3D has only started taking "preorders." "We will be determining the level of production we want to set," says Greg.
Don't expect the aerospace engineer to abandon conventional methods to create critical composite parts and jump on MarkForg3D. For critical parts and big companies, it will be business as usual. After all, serious players make big parts and like to deal with big companies. MarkForg3D is not in that league. Its parts are small, dependant on the printer's build volume. No huge molds (think aircraft fuselage or even bike frames), no one doing finite element analysis to predict behavior and finding optimum direction of fibers in a weave. However, the allure of what you see on your screen (in your CAD program) delivered clean and neat into your impatient hands in a few hours is unmistakable. I expect some smitten aerospace engineers will buy the Mark One for "home" use.
But MarkForg3D is not going for the highest echelon of manufacturing. There will be many for whom MarkForg3D will be compelling. Thinks of hot rods and the $100 billion2 custom auto parts market, for one.
Several TenLinks Best of Show judges turned in their votes for MarkForg3D, though one did caution that despite the hype already surrounding the MarkForg3D, we should reserve our final opinion on proof. Not one of us had seen or tested a real part that came out of the Mark One. And what of the cost of the carbon material?
1. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers probably gathers more at its annual convention.