A Look at Printing 3D metals

 

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3D printing was introduced a couple of years ago, and the types of items you can print is extraordinary. Printers are being used to 3D print a wide variety of items , but printing doesn’t always come cheap. Recently, researchers have developed an inexpensive way to 3D print metallic objects using rust and metal powders. Items such as batteries and fuel cells & parts for rockets and airplanes can actually be printed using the machine to be used across a number of different fields.

 

New research shows cheaper alternative

Current methods for 3D printing metals can be costly due to the use of metal powder beds and expensive lasers and electron beams. A new method was developed by Northwestern University in the United States, which uses liquid inks and common furnaces. In doing this you see cheaper, faster, and a more uniform process for printing metals. Researchers say that this new method can be used to print a variety of metals, metal mixtures, alloys, and metal oxides. Ramille Shah is an assistant professor at Northwestern University, and led the 3D metal printing study. He said it is really exciting news because most advanced manufacturing methods that are currently being used for metallic printing are very limited when it comes to the types of metals and alloys that can be printed.

 

Out with the old and in with the new

Again, previous methods for 3D printing metallic structures are very costly and take a lot of time, which can be precious. The old process requires an intense energy source, which is where the high cost comes into play, in having to use a laser or electron beam. This energy source will then move across a bed of metal powder to define an object’s architecture in one single layer by fusing particles together. The process continues as new powder is then placed on top of a previous layer, and the steps are repeated, creating a 3D metal. When it is printed this way the types of compatible metals and alloys that can be used are limited. With the new approach to printing metals in 3D, you take away the powder bed and energy beam. Here is the part where it gets tricky. Shah said that in creating a liquid ink of metal or mixed metal powders, solvents, and an elastomer binder, they were able to rapidly print densely packed powder structures. To do this a simply syringe-extrusion process was used, in which ink is dispensed through a nozzle at room temperature. The liquid solidifies and fuses with previously extruded material, which allows even large objects to be made quickly and efficiently. In the final steps of the new 3D process, researchers were able to fuse the powders by heating the structures using a simple furnace, without melting the powders.

 

Metal 3D printing in the future

Researchers say that this new method could efficiently print items like batteries, solid-oxide fuel cells, medical implants, and large mechanical parts. Since the new method of printing 3D metals is cheaper and faster, it is definitely likely that we will see this process used in the near future.