When it comes to 3D printing, the possibilities are almost limitless. The future appears to have even more to offer, as the technology becomes evolved and much more practical. 3D metal printing is going to be one of the hot new trends, as the creation of the world’s first 3D metal printer has already been announced.
What Will the 3D Metal Printer be Like?
Imagine being capable of downloading diagrams for nearly anything and printing such objects at home. With 3D metal printing, you will get even more opportunities than the ones that already exist.
In October 2013, Amaze announced the upcoming creation of the world’s first 3D printer working with metal. This printer will be designed especially for use on the International Space Station.
The printer is going to be used for the easy manufacture of important metallic components. Some of the pieces that the printer will create are expected to exceed two meters (6.5 feet) in size. Some predict that the 3D metal printing technology could give rise to amazing new opportunities like self-building space platforms—or at least replacement clothes dryers.
Specialists are actively involved in the 3D metal printer manufacture, since NASA expects to have the product ready for launch in 2014 at a cost projection of $257 million.
3D Metal Printing at Home
Coming back to Earth, what could 3D metal printing give households? A 3D metal printer for home use was already presented during the New York Maker Faire 2013. The project named Vader was developed by a father-son team. Scott and Zack Vader worked on the liquid metal jet printer that can be used for the at-home production of electronics.
The technology is similar to traditional printing using inkjet cartridges. For the purpose, Vader needs liquid metal and comes equipped with an electrical furnace used for melting the metal before the printing process starts.
Just like the old-school inkjet printer, Vader will then lay down droplets of liquid metal, one layer at a time. The extrusion hole’s size can be changed to allow the release of larger droplets of metal.
So far, molten aluminum can be used with Vader. According to the creators, there are possibilities for the usage of other metals like gold, silver and copper. The electrical conductivity of the metal is the most important characteristic for metal printing and solely minor adjustments will have to be made.
The Endless Possibilities
Once 3D metal printing becomes easily accessible, households will get the opportunity to manufacture a wide range of metal components. Electronics and robot manufacture are just some of the possibilities envisioned for the near future.
Currently, metal printing is limited to spherical shapes that result from the droplets used by 3D metal printers like Vader. Researchers are working on the technology that will enable the creation of structured shapes and they are getting closer to success.
The specifics of the best alloy for 3D metal printing and the most suitable extrusion method will still have to be discovered and refined. The use of templates for the 3D printing of various metal shapes is also being examined and developed.
Current 3D printers work primarily with plastic. A lot of research and experiments, however, target the introduction of new materials to the niche. 3D metal printing is soon going to be here and as the technology gets perfected, it will become available for at-home usage. Once 3D metal printing becomes the reality, the possibilities will be limitless.