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The future of manufacturing is here, and it’s in 3D

Alan Mulally, SF ’82, the legendary turnaround-artist who resuscitated Ford Motor Company, has always stayed focused on what’s next. An early proponent of 3D printing, he said in an earlier SF Leadership Blog post, “Metal is in the near future. With the level of accuracy that is possible through this process, we are seeing a sudden and dramatic improvement in the quality and manufacturability of parts. It’s both economical and efficient because spare parts don’t have to be warehoused. Almost any part can be produced on demand—and its file can live in the cloud. Three-dimensional printing will revolutionize the manufacturing world.”

The company that arguably is creating the noisiest buzz in the 3D space is Burlington, Massachusetts-based Desktop Metal—one of BostInno’s “17 Boston tech companies to watch in 2017.”  CEO Ric Fulop, SF ’06, launched the startup in October of 2015 to bring metal 3D printing to design and manufacturing companies across the globe. Fulop and his team have raised $97 million in equity funding, including a $45 million round of funding led by Google, BMW, and Lowe’s. Previous investors include NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Lux Capital, GE Ventures, Saudi Aramco, and 3D printing leader Stratasys. Desktop Metal is preparing for a product launch in late 2017.

Ric Fulop, SF ’06, CEO, Desktop Metal“Just as plastic 3D printing paved the way for rapid prototyping, metal 3D printing will make a profound impact on the way companies both prototype and mass produce parts across all major industries,” Fulop says. The company has convened a world-class team of experts in the fields of materials science, engineering, and software. In addition to Fulop, its leadership team includes several MIT professors, including Ely Sachs, an early pioneer of 3D printing, Chris Schuh, chairman of the MIT Materials Science and Engineering Department, Yet Ming Chiang, an expert in materials science, and John Hart, head of the mechanosynthesis lab at MIT.

The Desktop Metal team is working now to address the challenges of speed, cost, quality, and convenience to make metal 3D printing a tool that is essential to a wide span of fields. Uwe Higgen, Managing Partner of BMW i Ventures, notes the impact that the pioneering technology will have on the automotive industry. “From rapid prototyping and printing exceptional quality parts for end-use production, to freedom of design and mass customization, Desktop Metal is shaping the way cars will be imagined, designed, and manufactured.”

Fulop and Mulally, both MIT Sloan Fellows alumni, reflect the Institute’s deep interest in 3-D printing. MIT invented the technology thirty years ago—it even trademarked the term 3-D printing (3DP) back in the early 1990s. Today, the Institute is a nerve center of invention in what is technically referred to as additive manufacturing. The MIT Glass Lab, the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), and the MIT Computational Fabrication Group are just a few of the laboratories and centers at MIT that are exploding 3-D into a broad spectrum of fields.

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