3D printing hobbyists have long been downloading plans and printing items using plastic, but some have wished more a sturdier, more resilient alternative. It appears that alternative has finally arrived.
Markforged, a manufacturer of 3D printers, has introduced a line of devices capable of printing items using a steel-strength material made of carbon fiber and nylon. The Markforged X3, along with the X5, both operate at temperatures far higher than most 3D printers, enabling them to melt down this material, resulting in 3D printed items that, according to ExtremeTech, are “20 times stronger and 10 times stiffer than standard ABS plastic.”
The implications for this are pretty exciting, as traditionally, the use of plastic has limited the practicality of some 3D printing applications. We’ve seen a host of really cool things made with 3D printers, from replacement plastic parts to complex 3D models made entirely out of the material. But the use of something with the strength of steel allows for a wider range of possibilities, and with Markforged claiming that items from the X5 can replace machined aluminum, it’s easy to imagine a number of different ways this could be useful.
Imagine receiving a do-it-yourself piece of furniture from Amazon. Many of these products use metal parts, such as brackets and screws. If you’re missing a single part, it can shut down the entire process while you wait for a replacement part to come from the manufacturer. With a 3D printer capable of creating steel-strength parts, you can simply search for plans online, download them, and print the part yourself. Or if you’re a true do-it-yourselfer, you make draw up the plans yourself.
That’s not the only benefit. According to Markforged, the X5 can print items at a price 20 times cheaper than most tried-and-true manufacturing processes. Why? There’s no waste.
Now, there are some downsides to this new technology. It’s new, for starters, which means there are bound to be some hiccups as Markforged expands on what it’s able to do. And because the carbon-fiber-based nylon requires a higher temperature before it can be manipulated, printing with this material takes more time than the standard plastic used by many 3D printers.
Another thing that could trip up adoption at this time is the price. While it’s possible today to get a plastic-based 3D printer for just a few thousand dollars, neither the X3 or the X5 will come that cheap. The X3, which is a bit less capable than its older brother, sells for $36,990. The X5 is priced at $49,900. These are obviously out of the range of most everyday consumers, but that’s not who Markforged is targeting. Instead, Markforged hopes to sell these machines to manufacturers who want to print replacement parts quickly and are likely more able to absorb the cost.