3D printing, Features

A vision of manufacturing resilience and flexibility

Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke to the CEO of Markforged about how its platform creates digital inventory to build Australia’s sovereign production.

Markforged is collaborating with Australia’s brightest minds to push the envelope for additive manufacturing capability. Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke to Markforged’s CEO about how its platform creates digital inventory to build Australia’s sovereign production.

After nine years in the Israeli Navy, Shai Terem, president and CEO of Markforged, was set to enter the finance world. He decided to leave global leader in financial services Morgan Stanley, to pursue what he called creating real value in the world.

“When I left, I began to learn as much as I could to eventually lead a company that focuses on disruptive technologies which could have a positive impact on the world,” he said.

Many years later, Terem is leading Markforged to create high-value, end- use manufacturing applications which are printed at the point of need to solve today’s supply chain challenges – a feat which surely ties back to making a difference to real-world problems.

Based in the US, Markforged generates yearly revenues of around US $100 million, which is no small feat in the additive manufacturing industry. The company uses its flagship composite base material called OnyxTM for the foundation of its composite parts.

The material is a micro carbon fibre filled nylon that yields accurate parts with near flawless surface finish, offering high strength, toughness, and chemical resistance when printed alone, and can be reinforced with continuous fibres to yield aluminium- strength parts.

The company went public in July 2021, which has helped to accelerate innovation through US $361 million in public funds and doubling of its engineering team.

In Terem’s ten years in digital printing, he has seen two major waves from US government. Before President Joe Biden’s recent support of additive manufacturing, the Obama administration created a lot of awareness and demand for 3D printers in 2014.

“The problem was at the time, the technology helped with prototyping but wasn’t mature enough to really help manufacturing,” he said. “In recent years, everyone felt and continues to feel the pain of not being able to get parts, which created a real inflection point. The technologies are coming to a point now where you can print the part – stronger than aluminium – with a $20,000 printer in-house.”

At Swinburne University, Australian manufacturers now have access to the groundbreaking new composite 3D printer. The FX20 printer at Swinburne’s Aerostructures Innovation Research Hub (AIR Hub) will be the first FX20 printer openly accessible to industry in Australia for use in research and development, helping promote new aerospace development and support the continued growth of the sector locally.

The Australian journey

Richard Elving has lead Markforged’s value-based channel ecosystem in Australia.

From no presence in Australia five years ago, Markforged now has hundreds of customers, eight-figure revenue and employs over 200 people with its partners. Richard Elving, Senior Director Australia, was a part of that journey and explained establishing partners which share Markforged’s vision was key in the early days.

“We own joint demonstration centres. Whether you are in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane there is a Markforged local partner and a local demonstration centre. As we added customers, we had to prioritise same- day service and support,” Elving said. “There is an opportunity to do more in-house manufacturing and reduce our dependency for parts on countries outside of Australia, especially China.”

The pain of being isolated from the rest of the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a shift to make parts locally, prompting an additive manufacturing renaissance.

During the pandemic, it is true that most public additive companies focused on prototyping went down in sales. Markforged, however, continued to grow because of its manufacturing prowess, helping customers with mission-critical applications.

When asked how Australia compared to other nations in the adoption of additive manufacturing, Shai Terem believes we are not lagging behind.

“I think there’s an internal driver in Australia which combines innovation culture with real manufacturing capabilities,” Terem said. “For Markforged, we are manufacturing- focused and in Australia, there is a real need and real adoption.”

For Terem, there are two major bottlenecks to the adoption of additive technologies: the sophistication and effectiveness of the technology itself and the knowledge of the end users. Markforged places importance on industry collaboration to accelerate the application of its unique technology, which is why the CEO recently visited Victoria’s Swinburne University.

“The engineers of the future play a huge role in advancing this technology,” he said.

“Today, most of the decision makers in the manufacturing world have grey-hair and weren’t exposed to additive when they were in university themselves. Even worse, they may have ventured into additive when the technology was poor and they lost trust.”

“The new generation is what’s making the difference. It’s important to collaborate with as many education facilities as we can and teach them what can be done in designing for additive manufacturing, which is very different from designing for traditional manufacturing. We have seen many examples of young engineers entering the workforce and almost immediately driving cost savings for manufacturers because of their knowledge.”

As well as universities, companies like Markforged leverage relationships with government and industry associations. The AMGC and IMCRC are part of the charge of pushing technology to its limits.

“They have a direct link and are directly involved with shaping Australia’s future budgets, but also their mission is to work with politicians to tell them how Australia is really reinventing manufacturing,” Richard Elving noted.

“We are trying to do something very significant, something some people don’t believe can be done. It requires a mega effort and collaboration in order to change an industry, which is why universities and government is important.”

The biggest, most capable printer yet Markforged’s latest printer, the FX20, brings the Digital Forge and Continuous Fibre Reinforcement to a new realm of parts, problems and industries. The Markforged FX20 printer is primarily designed for high-strength end-use parts in the aerospace, defence, automotive and energy industries.

AIR Hub Director Dr Adriano Di Pietro, said the state-of-the-art printer will be a game-changer for Australian businesses.

“AIR Hub is bringing industry together with cutting edge technology to support the growth of aviation and aerospace in Australia,” he said. “We’re proud to be hosting Australia’s first openly accessible FX20 in Swinburne’s Factory of the Future.”

The FX20 prints nearly five times larger builds and is up to eight times faster than Markforged’s existing line of composite printers. It also features a heated build chamber capable of maintaining a temperature of up to 200°C to print flame-retardant, high- performance thermoplastic material.

Markforged CEO Shai Terem (second
from the left) at Swinburne University.

“There are multiple differentiators for the FX20 compared to our original solution,” he began. “The first is it’s much faster, which helps customers to really push the envelope in production. Instead of only the shoebox size, we can now make larger parts. Thirdly, it is the first time we can print high temperature materials. We believe that with the FX20 with continuous fibres in heightened materials, which are lighter, stronger, easy to fabricate and cheaper with no corrosion, we can really push the envelope into these industries.”

Markforged has 10,000+ connected printers globally. All these systems, including both composites and metal solutions, are connected through the company’s Digital Forge, a digital manufacturing workflow composed of software, printers, and materials working seamlessly on a unified platform. The system is purpose-built to integrate into an existing manufacturing ecosystem, eliminating barriers between design and functionality and helping to generate and analyse data about real usage.

“I believe Digital Forge is one of the most reliable platforms out there because it is very intelligent, gets better over time and is very easy to use,” Shai Terem noted.

“When adoption of a platform like this for mission critical parts happens, you will see more and more parts go from physical inventory to digital inventory, which means more cost savings and efficiency in the entire ecosystem. This will help to overcome global supply chain challenges and reduce carbon emissions.”

Shai Terem explained Markforged’s collaboration with Australian industry is a part of a higher purpose – to make manufacturing more resilient and flexible in this country.

“I really hope to collaborate with Australian innovation and to have millions of parts printed here for the products that are being innovated and produced in Australia,” Terem said.

“And we want to take it further, to ensure that the IP created in Australia will still be owned by Australian companies, but can be produced anywhere else in the world, which we can do because our solution is on the cloud.”

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