October 9, 2023
Markforged, known for its additive machines, recently launched a supply chain platform dubbed Digital Source, now available as an early access program. It's described as a cloud-based AI-powered system to get certified parts that can be printed onsite or outsourced for fulfillment. To understand how it works, DE 24/7 speaks to Tripp Burd, Markforged's director of new platforms.
Is Digital Source similar to what on-demand manufacturing sites like Fictiv and Xometry are doing?
There is a small overlap. These platforms take the existing capacity of their network, and provide users access to it. If you already have a design, and you're looking for a place to make it, then you can go to Fictiv or Xometry. But the barrier for the industry, as we see it, is not where to make something. It's what to make—where do you get the design file and how do you know it's good enough? This is where Digital Source provides a new functionality. Ours is a B2B tool, where suppliers can host designs. But it's a closed ecosystem for chosen customers and suppliers. We provide OEMs and suppliers a secure way to share and monetize their IP assets.
Let's say I'm an automaker. If I find a design I want made in Digital Source, what's the next step? Who will make it for me?
In that case, you can identify the file or the part you need and purchase the rights to print it. After that, you have the option to immediately print it with the printers you own on your own factory floor. But if you do not have the right printer to print it, or if the volume needed exceeds your in-house capacity, then you can also send it securely to get printed by a supplier. It's not an open print file yor're sending. You're routing an encrypted file. In that sense, Digital Source also provides the service the other on-demand manufactuers do, but we do so in a way that doesn't involve passing CAD files. There's no risk of someone reverse-engineering something, no risk of the file being compromised.
Does Digital Source target metal-based printing?
It does not target metal printing exclusively, but it's designed to work most smoothly with Markforged technology, which includes metal, composites, etc. The print technology is second. Rather, the focus is on connectivity and security.
Does it work for a mixed environment where a manufacturer is using both Markforged hardware and those from others?
Right now we're starting this platform with Markforged technology. Obviously this is where we are most comfortable, where we can provide the highest level of assurance and quality. But our objective is to expand beyond Markforged hardware.
What do you aim to achieve from this launch?
Our goal is not to onboard anybody that comes to get the highest number of users. We want to ensure only known users are on it, and they're getting maximum value. So we work with some small machine shops providing spare parts, and also with some major OEMs that want to address their supply chain needs. In the long term, we hope Digital Source becomes a way to address supply chain needs. We also want to promote the adoption of AM.