With the technology improving and costs falling, 3D printing could be poised to play a major role in manufacturing.
DEVENS, Mass. — The machines stand 20 feet high, weigh 60,000 pounds and represent the technological frontier of 3-D printing.
Each machine deploys 150 laser beams, projected from a gantry and moving quickly back and forth, making high-tech parts for corporate customers in fields including aerospace, semiconductors, defense and medical implants.
The parts of titanium and other materials are created layer by layer, each about as thin as a human hair, up to 20,000 layers, depending on a part’s design. The machines are hermetically sealed. Inside, the atmosphere is mainly argon, among the least reactive of gases, reducing the chance of impurities that cause defects in a part.
The 3-D-printing foundry in Devens, Mass., about 40 miles northwest of Boston, is owned by VulcanForms, a start-up that came out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has raised $355 million in venture funding. And its work force has jumped sixfold in the past year to 360, with recruits from major manufacturers like General Electric and Pratt & Whitney and tech companies including Google and Autodesk.