Though it is most known for its continuous carbon fiber (CCF) and metal extrusion 3D printers, Markforged (NYSE: MKFG) has always had good software. This began with an exceptional print management tool, Eiger, but the firm has has been building out its offering even further with the broader Digital Forge software portfolio. At Formnext 2022, Makrforged announced the release of a virtual testing tool, Simulation. It’s free at the moment, but will require a subscription later. Simulation is meant to accelerate the adoption of composite 3D printing by allowing users to simulate part strength before generating the optimal print parameters.

Simulation for Carbon Fiber 3D Printing

The tool is meant to be easy to use so that a variety of users can validate models in advance of printing them. Such values such as safety factor and load can be inputed to create the necessary infill, amount of fiber, and other settings for different sections of an item.  To illustrate the possibilities, drag racing firm Larsen Motorsports used CCF 3D printing to produce a composite steering wheel—customized for motorsports driver Josette Roach—as a replacement for an aluminum predecessor. Brian Tocci, Director of Operations at Larsen Motorsports, said of the device, “We can now test it with Simulation, iterate and keep iterating until we get a design we’re happy with. We don’t have to print ten different parts. We can do it all in Simulation.”

Race car driver Josette Roach holds her custom-made steering wheel, 3D printed using Simulation and CCF technology. Image courtesy of Markforged.

“Simulation enables our customers to adopt The Digital Forge deeper into their manufacturing operations by replacing more mission critical tooling and end-use metal parts with validated and optimized 3D printed advanced composite parts with Continuous Fiber Reinforcement. Cloud-based software innovation like Simulation is core to our mission to bring industrial part production to the point of need,” said Markforged CEO Shai Terem.

Expanding the Digital Forge

Markforged is trying to extend its software footprint further onto the manufacturing floor with an expanding platform of solutions. This could allow the firm to extract more value as recurring subscription fees provide a continuous revenue stream. By being one of the major software interfaces that engineers use daily, Markforged could also become more important to workflows, embedding itself in enterprises and workshops alike.  At the same time its CCF 3D printing process is exotic. In order to unlock all of its benefits, users do have to learn to design for the technology. They have to learn how to make parts that optimally make use of the CCF.

Software is a key enabler. If Markforged´s software does not sufficiently guide people into designing for its process, then the company will find increasing adoption tough going. As we’ve seen before, some processes, notably metal powder bed fusion, often leave only a few people in a company with mastery of the technology. One could produce millions of crowns and bridges through a semi-automated process, with few designers involved. The same can be said for many serial manufacturing applications. However, for a tool that will be used to solve problems in and around the workshop, there need to be many people that have access to it. Typically, it may be idle as other machines work. If one employee needs to use a Markforged 3D printer, but does not know how to design for it, then he will never actually utilize it. If excitement and skill don’t jointly penetrate the shop floor, the machine will sit gathering dust.

Continuous carbon (and other!) fibers are technologies with a wide array of applications. They can be used for weight saving, making new parts that aren’t otherwise possible, or completely redesigning complex assemblies. However, software needs to be super easy and quick to learn for everyone on the shop floor to adopt it. In this case, Markforged´s investment in software is not only a revenue opportunity, but also an absolutely essential method for removing barriers for its technologies to flourish.

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