A 3D Printer Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? A 3D-Printing Factory
Instead of trying to build a single machine that can print three-dimensional objects, Freeform is looking to turn entire buildings into automated 3D-printing factories that would use dozens of lasers to create rocket engine chambers or car parts from metal powder. The company, which has never before discussed its approach publicly, says the technique could allow it to make metal parts 25 to 50 times faster than is possible with current methods and at a fraction of the cost.
Freeform is creating machines that can fill a warehouse. Its current factory, in Hawthorne, California, used to serve as Keanu Reeves’s motorcycle storage facility. (Freeform still ends up with some of the actor’s mail.) Inside, machines shuffle objects back and forth along rapidly moving conveyors, so the system can work on many things at once. Other companies have set up multiple printers in a single facility, but this strategy doesn’t improve their speed, it just increases scale by having them work in parallel. Freedom, by contrast, is redesigning the process by which 3D printing can turn raw materials into finished products. In a sense, it’s akin to the establishment of the assembly-line process pioneered by 20th century industrialists like Henry Ford. “We have to achieve a state of mass production to open this up to more industries,” says Palitsch. “And you simply can’t get there with a conventional machine.”