Mantle targets $45 billion tooling market with unique metal 3D printing technology –

After six years of development, Mantle has finally released its commercial metal 3D printing system, which combines bonded metal extrusion with CNC milling to achieve results hitherto unmatched by the rest of the binder jetting segment. What’s more interesting than the technology, however, is Mantle’s business model, as the Bay Area startup primarily targets the $45 billion injection molding tool market. To find out more, we spoke to Mantle CEO Ted Sorom, as well as Chief Commercial Officer Paul DiLaura and Chief Marketing Officer Ethan Rejto.

Ahead of IMTS, Mantle announced the commercial release of its P-200 3D printer, built around a reliable CNC platform equipped with a metal paste extrusion head. With a build volume of 200mm x 200mm x 150mm, the machine first prints a layer which is heated to dry the paste, evaporating some of the binder material. After approximately 10 layers are printed, a high-speed CNC milling machine cuts the part, resulting in greater precision and a smoother surface finish. Since it is machining dried paste rather than solid metal, the cutting process is significantly faster.

The P-200 metal 3D printer alongside the F-200 oven. Image courtesy of Mantle.

The green part is then placed in Mantle’s F-200 furnace, sintering them into nearly fully dense tool steel components. Since some of the binder has already evaporated during the printing process, shrinkage during sintering is limited to less than 10%, unlike traditional bonded metal parts, which typically shrink around 20%. This makes it easier to predict the end result.

The use of CNC also enables the “best in class surface finish” of 1-3 µm Ra. Even before sintering, the printed objects are extremely smooth. This not only means improved accuracy, but also little to no post-processing.

So far, H13 and P2X tool steels (similar to P20) have been developed for Mantle’s TrueShape process. The future materials roadmap features more tool steels as, as it stands, the startup is targeting the injection molding industry. By uniquely addressing the needs of precision tooling, the company is able to access the immense opportunity that lies within this sector.

Dental tools: the n°1 3D printing application

Highlighting a piece on display at IMTS, Rejto noted, “This piece from Tessy Plastics molds this piece for a deodorant core. It’s been lasting for 1.4 million cycles and counting. It is still in production. The team couldn’t tell me which deodorant companies were using the injection molded parts with tools made by Mantle, except to say that these were branded products that could be found in any store. what pharmacy.

Mantle’s 3D printed metal insert and molded deodorant parts with the Mantle insert. Image courtesy of Mantle.

It impressed me right away. Typically, additive companies target mass manufacturers, but because they’re looking for final 3D printed parts, the throughput and cost savings just aren’t there to see the technology used for all many items that I could find in my daily life. Applying AM to indirect manufacturing, however, there is a butterfly effect that is undeniable.

CEO Ted Sorom underscored this point by saying, “The biggest 3D printing application in the world today is a tooling application. You know what it is? Transparent dental gutters, manufactured by thermoforming.

Companies like Invisalign have created an entire industry through the use of indirect manufacturing with 3D printing. By 3D printing a model of a patient’s teeth according to the prescriptions of the orthodontist, it is possible to thermoform transparent gutters using stable and biocompatible materials. As companies develop materials for the final 3D printing of dental aligners, they are only just beginning to hit the market. Meanwhile, thermoforming models are printed at the rate of 200 million units per year.

Tooling: the $45 billion 3D printing app

Typically in the AM industry, machine vendors are also application engineers and consultants. They are not just trying to offload a 3D printer to a customer, but also have to co-develop a use case and help the customer through the design and production process. Mantle tries a completely different approach.

The tools presented at IMTS all looked like traditional tools. There were no lattice structures or consolidated assemblies. Instead, they were just as strong and sturdy as tools made with CNC machining. They were tools a customer could trust, that worked like anything they had in their hands in the past.

To put 3D printing’s foot in the door of this legacy sector, which Sorom estimates at $45 billion, Mantle isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The biggest difference between TrueShape tools and something conventionally made was that they were designed and made in weeks instead of months and at half the cost.

Mantle does not sell the geometric freedom of the additive as a reason to adopt its technology. In many cases, the mere mention of “conformal cooling,” which can accelerate heat dissipation from an injection molding tool, can make customers nervous. Fear of mold flow software is enough to scare away traditional manufacturers.

A mold designed with conformal cooling, 3D printed using Mantle’s TrueShape process.

“We make sure that you can print a completely dense and strong piece of metal, because that’s what toolmakers are used to. The vast majority of the parts you see here [at Mantle’s IMTS booth] today are exactly like the engineer’s design. We just print much faster and cheaper. For us, the conformal cooling and the new geometries are the icing on the cake,” said Sorom. “Then, as you become educated, you can use this powerful capability to perform conformal cooling and improve power quality or cycle times.”

Mantle’s strategy has raised the possibility that other metal 3D printing companies are touting conformal cooling and other unique design possibilities to justify the extremely high cost of their machines. Typically, a powder bed fusion system can cost well over half a million dollars. In contrast, the entire Mantle system, including the P-200 printer and F-200 oven, costs $350,000.

TrueShape 3D printing in the mainstream

Looking at the user landscape, there are several avenues Mantle could take and it apparently follows them all. Specifically, the company targets tool makers, injection molding suppliers, and vertically integrated companies whose tool manufacturing and manufacturing is done in-house.

“We’ve worked with companies like L’Oreal and others on the OEM side, but basically it always comes down to someone making the tool,” DiLaura said. “It’s either a toolmaker or a captive in-house group that makes the tooling for them. We’ve found that people in medical and other industries where they’re vertically integrated, where they make their own tools and run plastics production can get a lot of value out of what we do because they know how to speed up those cycle times. . They capture more value. Not only is their tool faster, but their production is faster and they get a higher quality part.

3D printed metal molds made by Mantle for injection molding.

The TrueShape process can be complementary to other 3D printing technologies, including those targeting tooling directly, such as those from Addifab and Fortify. While Addifab’s free-form injection molding is intended for temporary tooling for short-term injection molding, Fortify’s technology is intended to produce more durable molds using engineered ceramic materials. These processes could potentially be used for deck tooling or prototyping before a fabricator turns to a final metal mold.

Regardless of how they compare to each other, these companies could all contribute to the relocation of American industry. Sorom estimated that about $8 billion of tooling is made in the United States, while $26 billion is made in Asia. Because the expertise to make tools has been exported overseas, it is possible that new digital processes will reverse the process.

With students, designers, and engineers in the United States focusing more on CAD than traditional toolmaking, 3D printing with technologies like TrueShape could help digitize domestic production. This would be particularly beneficial during supply chain crises, such as those exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

“The time and effort it takes to get to a journeyman mold maker, someone who can make tools like this, is four to five years and 8,000 to 10,000 hours. In fact, we allow not only to speed up the process, but a tool that literally allows you to take the CAD file for it, put it in our system, load the machine, press the button, have dinner with your family, to come back the next day and/or the next day and you have a role waiting for you. And that level of automation is what the industry needs to be able to be localized, to be able to bring it back from the United States,” Sorom concluded.