The Mark One Takes 3D Printing to the Next Level

Meet the world’s first 3-D printer to use carbon fiber.

3D printing at home is great if you want a Christmas-tree ornament or some other such low-capability plastic geegaw. To print anything that can actually do something—take some stress, stand up to wear and tear, bear some weight—you had to turn to more sophisticated printers that couldn’t possibly fit on your table.

That changes now, with the release of the Mark One, a cool new multi-material 3D printer produced by MarkForg3d, a Boston-based startup. Launched this week at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego, the Mark One is the brainchild of Gregory Mark, whose other company, Aeromotions, makes the best racecar wings in the world.

“We say it’s like regular 3D printers do the form. We do form and function,” Mark told Popular Mechanics, but I think there’s much more to it than that. Here are three reasons why I think the Mark One represents the next generation of desktop 3D printers:

1. It’s the first printer that works with carbon fiber. Well, actually, it prints carbon fiber composites, which is even better. The components that come off its printing bed are not only 25 times stiffer and five times stronger than ABS plastic components, they are stronger than CNC milled Aluminum. Of course, carbon fiber composite isn’t the appropriate material for every component, but it’s a functional step-up from nylon or polylactic acid.

2. It’s the first real breakthrough for desktop manufacturing: not just desktop printing of prototypes, but real manufacturing of high-functioning parts, tools, and fixtures. Plus, manufacturing with carbon fiber so far has always been very labor-intensive—it usually involves hand molding or vacuum bagging. The Mark One makes the dream material of aeronautics engineers and automotive racers available for general manufacturing. However, it is still expensive stuff, and precision engineering isn’t child’s play, so we’re not all going to be printing space shuttles on our workshop tables just yet.

3. It’s the first printer that looks like a well-designed consumer product. This might seem a trivial point, but the design of products in any market segment is a good indicator of that industry’s maturity. Makerbot’s machines look like they came off the sets of Battlestar Galactica, and they proudly own their computer-nerd typeface. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a far cry from the minimal aluminum body and symmetric spools of the Mark One. Comparisons have been made to Apple design, which is another way of saying that it looks both aspirational and mainstream.

The Mark One will set back customers $5,000, and carbon fiber filament doesn’t come cheap either. This makes the printer a production investment, so it remains to be seen if the maintenance and service will live up to that standard. MarkForg3d is taking pre-orders on their site, and printers will ship later this year.

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