When most people think of 3D printing, they usually think of the plastic trinkets that come out of Makerbot machines. But increasingly, there’s interest in being able to 3D print items out of metal, which allows for more heavy-duty industrial applications of the technology.
Metal 3D printers exist now, but they can be expensify to purchase. A new startup called MatterFab hopes to reduce the cost associated with metal 3D printing, with a machine that houses a high-powered laser to basically weld metal together.
Unlike most plastic 3D printing machines, which work by extruding small amounts of plastic filament onto an object, the MatterFab machine puts down a thin layer of metal powder onto a build plate and then uses its laser to melt the powder onto the layer beneath it. By doing so, the machine can very precisely print various metal objects.
MatterFab CEO Matt Burris got his start after growing up around his father’s CNC machine shop in Indianapolis. That shop specifically built machine parts for the aerospace industry, but about three years ago, GE started to 3D print some of the parts that the shop used to make.
That led Burris to become interested in creating his own metal 3D printing machine, which he’s been working on for the past two years along with co-founder Dave Warren. The team has been working out of the office of hardware incubator and seed-stage investor firm Lemnos Labs, which helped to get the startup up and running.
Due to the rapidly decreasing cost of sensors and computational power, the MatterFab machine was built to offer up metal 3D printing at an order of magnitude lower than other products that are available to manufacturers today. With its prototype done, the company is looking to start building and shipping printers to partners beginning early next year.
Check out the video above to see how it works.