Desktop Metal Grabs $34M to Move Prototype 3D Printers to Market

The stakes just got even higher for Desktop Metal.

The Boston-area 3D printing startup burst onto the scene last fall with a nearly $14 million initial funding round from high-profile investors NEA, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, Lux Capital, 3D printing giant Stratasys, and others. Investors poured in the money largely based on faith in the startup’s team—with backgrounds at A123 Systems, SolidWorks, Kiva Systems, MIT, and more—and their bold vision to create a much cheaper and smaller metal-making 3D printer. The company didn’t have a working prototype or a website at the time.

Fast forward six months, and the Lexington, MA-based firm has built functioning prototypes and more than doubled the size of its team from 11 people to over 25, says co-founder and CEO Ric Fulop. (It’s got a website now, too.)

And this week, Desktop Metal’s previous investors kicked in roughly $34 million more, Fulop says.

“When we started the company, we didn’t have a product working,” Fulop (pictured above) says in a phone interview. “Now we have the technology working. We’re gearing up to finish our product. We had the opportunity to raise [more] capital, and we did it.”

Fulop says the goal is to hit the market in the next year, but he hesitates to put a firm timeline on it. “It’s hard to tell,” he says. “We’re not going to introduce a product that’s not ready.”

Desktop Metal is trying to solve a hard problem that Fulop equates to the evolution of computers over the past 50 years, which moved from giant, expensive mainframes used only by governments and big businesses to relatively inexpensive devices that can sit on a desktop or fit in people’s pockets. The 3D printing sector has made progress with desktop machines that cost a few thousand dollars and can print objects made of lighter materials, like plastic and paper. Those items are often used as molds for creating metal parts.

But metal-making 3D printers are out of reach for many manufacturing businesses (let alone individual engineers and hobbyists) because they are bulky, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, suck up massive amounts of gases and industrial-scale electricity in order to run, require permits to operate, and use powerful—and potentially dangerous—lasers.

Fulop still won’t go into detail about what Desktop Metal has devised, but he has said its printers will employ a “completely different” process that won’t use lasers. The goal, Fulop says, is to produce a device that is “office friendly,” can sit on a desk, and works with the touch of a button—no special personnel required to operate. The plan is to sell the product to big manufacturers (think GM, Honeywell, Boeing, and so on), as well as small engineering firms, he adds.

“Essentially, we’re democratizing the way people print metal,” Fulop says. “A lot of challenges go into this. … There’s a lot of metallurgy involved and tons of scientific horsepower.”

The core team members include Yet-Ming Chiang, a co-founder of advanced battery maker A123 Systems and an MIT materials science and engineering professor; former A123 engineer Jonah Myerberg; Rick Chin, an early engineer with 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software provider SolidWorks; Chris Schuh, who leads MIT’s materials science and engineering department; and Matt Verminski, who was vice president of hardware engineering at Kiva, the robotics company acquired by Amazon. Fulop co-founded A123 and was later a general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners.

Desktop Metal is growing. Fulop expects to double its staff to about 50 people in the next few months.

Fulop is excited to be building Desktop Metal in the Boston area, which he views as the “epicenter” of 3D printing. Local players include big CAD software companies like Dassault Systemes SolidWorks and PTC, as well as up-and-coming design software firms like Onshape. The region is also home to a number of 3D printing startups, including Formlabs, MarkForged, and Voxel8.

Desktop Metal has a lot to prove, but Fulop aims to bolster that local cluster. “We want to build a landmark company here in Boston.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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