If you’ve been following our reporting recently, you may already be aware of 3DM. A recent podcast guest of ours, the young Israeli company has emerged onto the AM market with a new solution that is poised to disrupt polymer-based laser powder bed fusion technologies. How? It all comes down to the laser.
The company has developed a new type of 3D printing laser, specifically a quantum cascade laser (QCL), that can be adapted for different wavelengths to accommodate a wider range of thermoplastic materials, all while enhancing print quality and speeds and lowering costs. And this isn’t a distant promise: 3DM’s technology is realized and the company is currently preparing to roll out its first two 3D printers: a compact professional system fitted with a single laser beam configuration, and a larger four-laser-beam 3D printer.
In the leadup to its first product launch, we want to look at where 3DM came from, what its technology is capable of, and what verticals seek to benefit from its LPBF innovation.
3DM’s origin story
The coolest technologies always seem to have the humblest origin stories. In 3DM’s case, the company’s founder Daniel Majer built his first laser printer prototype in his son’s bedroom, using his own two hands to assemble the tech. From there, the prototype evolved, capital was raised, and 3DM was born.
Of course, Majer was uniquely qualified to come up with the new and innovative laser for powder-based polymer AM. With a Phd in Physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and over 20 years of experience in the high tech field, Majer is a renowned expert in laser and semiconductor electro-optical technology. To date, he has published 40 scientific articles in respected journals and holds 30 US patents. In addition to his in-depth knowledge of laser development, Majer has also been working with 3D printing technologies since 2012.
Using his unique background and expertise, Majer founded 3DM in 2016 with the aim of revolutionizing powder-based polymer additive manufacturing, better known as SLS or LPBF. In 2021, the company began trading on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and today 3DM has emerged successfully from stealth mode in preparation to launch its technology and scale its business.
Finding the right wavelength
The driving force behind 3DM is its QCL (quantum cascade laser) technology. The laser, reportedly a bit smaller than the size of a grain of rice, is a semiconductor laser capable of emitting high energy beams. The real beauty of QCL technology is that it can be tailored for different wavelengths, meaning that it can be tuned to meet the specific melting properties of different thermoplastics.
As Ido Eylon, CEO of 3DM Digital Manufacturing, told us on the VoxelMatters podcast: “We analyze the different wavelengths and their absorption in the targeted material, so we end up with a laser that is most efficiently absorbed in the intended material and the material is melted in the most efficient way.”
The laser is also low cost—ringing up at just tens of dollars—and can be fitted into a laser module, with added optics and electronics. Laser modules are then placed into 3DM’s beam head to achieve optimal printing results. This beam head, which can accommodate 1-6 lasers, is designed to enhance the benefits of the quantum cascade laser and improve print speeds and outcomes. 3DM has also designed its own printing head, which is “based on an array of laser beams operating in parallel.”
Productization is on the way
While 3DM has suggested its unique laser technology can be fitted into existing SLS platforms (with certain adjustments) to enhance their throughput and quality, the company is also preparing to launch its own machines. While many details about the products are still under wraps, we can share what we do know.
3DM’s first product releases will be two industrial-grade 3D printers. The first will be a more compact professional system equipped with a single-laser configuration, offering the technology’s benefits on a smaller scale and at a lower cost. The second system will be a larger machine with a four-laser configuration. The multi-beam-head system will enable faster printing rates and higher throughput to meet the needs of series production applications.
Both machines are based on the company’s proprietary QCL technology as well as an open materials platform. This means they can print virtually any plastic material. According to Eylon, the company has successfully printed almost all existing SLS materials (including PAs, PPs, and TPUs), but could theoretically print any thermoplastic in powder form. (On that front, the company has partnered with a number of materials developers.)
In addition to the wider range of printing materials, 3DM’s upcoming systems will unlock other benefits for users, including superior mechanical properties and isotropy, faster printing speeds, and higher resolutions. These advantages are the result of having a laser that is calibrated to the properties of a specific material. As Eylon explains it, the unique wavelength allows for the melt rate and energy absorption of the print material to be as efficient as possible, which accelerates print speeds and improves mechanical properties, resolution and surface finish quality.
Eylon recommends thinking about the laser’s capability not as “sintering” but as “melting”. The QCL technology melts the material with incredible precision, and the high intensity of the laser beam results in better adhesion and bonding between the molecules of the plastic. This is what creates the printed material’s isotropic nature and results in superior mechanical properties.
An eye on industrial production
With a technology as disruptive as QCL, it’s no wonder that 3DM has ambitious plans. The company intends for its solution to be used for industrial production applications, including the mass production of plastic parts. This mission is in following with the wider trend across AM to meet industrial production needs.
“The AM industry already proved some years ago that it is suitable for prototypes and models, but now the challenge is to move and scale from small-series to higher series production,” Eylon said in our podcast interview. “There are some challenges still, like speeds, cost, and quality. And 3DM addresses all of these challenges.”
For now, the company has its eyes set on a range of different verticals, including consumer goods, consumer electronics, sporting goods, medical, automotive and defense. These segments and others seek to benefit most from the customization potential of additive manufacturing as well as more agile supply chains. 3DM’s technology specifically can empower these industries to reach higher production volumes and better quality parts, while simultaneously reducing costs.
The company is in talks with a number of end users in these verticals and has already started to work with a few companies to gather feedback on its technology. This feedback will enable 3DM to fine tune its upcoming systems and accelerate the final stages of their development.
Ultimately, by bringing a technology to market that unlocks dramatically faster printing speeds and better print results at a lower cost, 3DM aims to facilitate the continued industrialization of polymer-based powder bed fusion. And that’s on top of the much wider array of thermoplastics that end users will be able to process using the customizable wavelength laser.