3D printing has become a familiar technology for the world. It is being utilized in every possible industry vertical. But if we analyze it properly, several limitations can be mended. Sergey Singov, the Founder and CEO of Forger3D LLC, wanted to remove the shape limitations associated with objects that could be made on FDM printers without needing to remove the support structures. He had several ideas but soon after, he realized that the concept won’t work. Until he developed a concept which seemed to work with metals. This led to the establishment of Forger3D in 2016. Forger3D has developed a 3D printer that prints metal using the Selective Powder Deposition (SPD) process.
Though the concept was clear, Sergey had several prototypes which differed from the current version. “When I was building the very first version—it was mostly a guess. For the 2nd version, I used what I have learned from the 1st one. When I was building the 3rd version, I thought that it would likely be the final one. No, it wasn’t,” explained Sergey.
Relentless dedication and will power to achieve the best, helped Sergey to find significate improvement until about the 10th version. However, the printer was stable but there were constant changes in the design which led to the design of Model-C. Also, the last several printers were almost identical. Yet, he believes that the model can be improved further. These improvements can be made in the printer itself, or while they are manufactured. At times, if there are minor adjustments Sergey changes them and if there are several adjustments required, he outsources it. He is hoping to find manufacturers who can build it all.
Forger3D’s iro3d printers pose certain advantages over the other metal 3D printing process. The biggest advantage is the cost. The iro3d printer Model-C costs only $7000. Alongside, the consumables are non-proprietary and economical too—and over time they will get cheaper. Generally, common metals like iron, aluminum, copper, zinc, are lower-priced than plastics (PLA, ABS, PETG, Nylon). Observing the rise in the scale of manufacturing, metal 3D printing will eventually be cheaper than plastic. There are two distinctive advantages that make SPD preferable for the company; it can print 100% dense object and it offers shape and size preservation. The metal cools down and solidifies one pixel at a time, and when the metal solidifies it shrinks causing shape distortion—as compared to the laser printers that can only achieve 99.7% density.
Additionally, the laser printers need to add lots of support structures to reduce the warping, which further adds manual labor to remove those structures. Besides, if these structures are inside the part they can’t be removed and thus these printers cannot print such shapes. When we compare the SPD printers with the ones that use plastic filament with the metal particles inside and rely on sintering, the advantage of SPD is more pronounced. This is because, sintering causes huge shrinkage and shape distortion, and despite what they claim—they can’t fully compensate for it in software, because shape distortion is non-linear, and not completely predictable. Lastly, iro3d with SPD can print glass, whereas no other printer in the world has achieved this.
Challenges and Unprecedented Crisis
The 3D printing technology can be further advanced but the biggest challenge here is science. Today, it is easy to find a software engineer but difficult to find a chemist or metallurgist. When Forger3D began its operations, Sergey designed the mechanics of the printer and wrote the firmware and the slicer. He also contributed to the design of the first motherboard. And had to learn chemistry and metallurgy. Also, before venturing into entrepreneurship, Sergey took several MBA courses and watched all the startup advice lectures from YCombinater.
As aforementioned, before the product was finalized there were several versions that were constantly improving from the previous ones. Even the current product can be further advanced. For now, the team is prepared with a reasonably good understanding of how to use several alloys with SPD, but the research continues to understand other alloys, ceramics, and composite materials. Another challenge is finance. Every startup has problems with investments but again it is easier to find investors who understand software than metallurgy.
The challenges further intensified with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. As most of the Forger3D customers and research partners were universities, so with the advent of pandemic universities were closed putting a halt on the services. Though the Ph.D. students kept working on the collaborations, it was limited to theory only as they could not perform experiments.
Exploring more Prospects
Despite the challenges, Sergey and his team are working towards the growth of the company. For now, they are targeting to 3D print parts for rocket engines as they are very expensive—more expensive than the printer itself. And another aim will be to explore mold cores with conformal cooling channels for plastic injection molding. Sergey confirmed, “Once the scale increases and costs go down, we’ll look at other markets.” Sergey believes that it is a good idea to venture into the 3D printing franchise, so he has partnered with his friends to start a new company called Atomwell. Atomwell will function as a platform where the client can visit and upload the 3D model, the site would let him select the metal, and tell how much it would cost. Then he pays with a credit card, and we send the model to the nearest (or best) franchise. The franchise prints the part and mails it to the user. He hopes that in the coming years, the team will have a franchise in every big city in every country. For the year 2021, he anticipates that the world will be back to normal. “Not sure about the rest of the world, but here in Texas, the mask mandate has been lifted. And now we have the vaccines,” he explains.
Read Full Magazine:- The 10 Compelling 3D Printing Companies, 2021