The Massachusetts startup Desktop Metal has developed 3D printers capable of printing complex and innovative metal parts efficiently. Its speed and relative affordability are two key characteristics that can see the technology applied to the design and manufacture of products, and if they succeed, they can transform production as we know it. The First Printers were marketed last December, with companies like Google as the first customers.

Among the founders of the startup are four prominent professors from MIT, who cannot guarantee the printer’s success either. So far, 3D printing has not had the advertised impact, as printing on plastic parts does not have many manufacturing applications beyond product prototyping for designers and engineers. Metal 3D printing already existed, but it was very expensive and within the reach of very few companies, plus it was too complex to print multiple iterations of a metal part during the design and product development process. The Dekstop Metal printer, on the other hand, promises a fast and quality process for printing metal parts.

If the promise is kept, designers will have more freedom to create and test parts and devices with complex shapes. Additionally, engineers and material scientists will be able to create parts with new functions and properties by combining multiple materials. More significantly, the breakthrough could redefine the economics of mass production, because the cost of printing an object would remain , regardless of the number of objects printed. It would change the size of factories, the spare parts inventory needed, and the process of customizing manufacturing for specialized products.