Additive manufacturing has been a popular buzz phrase for decades now. With a smattering of notable exceptions, however, 3D printing has largely been focused on rapid prototyping and limited-run, personal products. Metal 3D printing companies like Mantle represent an intriguing use case on the road to truly scaling the tech to mass manufacturing.
Arriving out of stealth today, the Bay Area-based company is not focused on replacing traditional manufacturing methods, as much as augmenting and improving them. Specifically, the startup is focusing its technology in helping creating better molds and dies for manufacturers.
There are, of course, a number of companies currently competing in the printable metal category. Notable names include Desktop Metal, ExOne and Markforged. Armed with $13 million in funding from Foundation Capital, Hypertherm Ventures, Future Shape, 11.2 capital, Plug and Play Ventures and Corazon Capital, Mantle seeks to differentiate itself with a machine capable of removing some steps from the process.
“The main difference, having interacted with 3D printing for close to three decades, is really around the focus on these use cases that are production oriented,” Foundation Capital General Partner Steve Vassallo tells TechCrunch. “The vast majority of 3D printing is to make a prototype as quickly as possible. To actually make something that can be used in production environments — real parts that you can use — has never been done before.”
The company’s machine (roughly “The size of two standing desks” its says) builds part finishing into the process.
“Ours is the first sintering-based hybrid technology that does shape refinement prior to going into the furnace,” CEO Ted Sorom tells TechCrunch. “We do it with a unique material that’s designed not only to be deposited into a very dense body but to also be cut with high-speed cutting tools. That allows us to get a totally different level of surface detail than anyone’s able to get today.”
The company has thus far announced L’Oréal as its first partner. The cosmetics giant will be using Mantle’s printers to create precision molds for products and packaging.
Tony Fadell, of Future Shape, added in a comment offered to TechCrunch, “Mantle gives you the superpowers to make Apple-quality mechanical parts in days not months and lowers your cost by orders of magnitude. That speed and affordability lets you iterate to get your parts to perfection and still lets you launch much earlier.”