Metal 3D printing – what is possible? – Magoda – Made in America

The ability to create on-demand objects from virtually anywhere has long been the dream of engineers and manufacturing professionals. Traditionally, manufacturing has required a lot of equipment, large factories, and skilled labor in operating the machines needed to make things. However, that all changed in the early 2010s when 3D printing hit the scene.

As a concept, 3D printing, sometimes referred to as additive manufacturing, has been around since 1945. Through the various iterations of this technology, the additive manufacturing industry has used a variety of materials, most of which were polymers. However, one of the main purposes of 3D printing has been to print metal objects.

The history of 3D printed metal

Metal additive manufacturing was introduced to the world in 1971 when Johannes Gottwald created the Liquid Metal Recorder. This technology served as a precursor to modern 3D printing by implementing the same additive concepts used today. The Liquid Metal Recorder was based on earlier concepts like inkjet printing in which a computer is used to transfer information to a printer which places droplets of ink at specific locations on a sheet of paper.

Credit: US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

The Liquid Metal Recorder created droplets using liquid metal which were then built up using layers. This version of metal 3D printing was innovative in its day, but lacked the precision and refinement capabilities that characterize today’s 3D printing capabilities.

In 1982, defense research and technology company Raytheon created a method of 3D printing metals using metal powder. This method is still used today for 3D printing metal parts and other metal objects using fine powders made of metal particles and other additives. Modern metal 3D printing often introduces the use of lasers into the process with alloys like aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, copper, silver, and gold.

How does 3D printing in metal work?

Metal 3D printing is achieved by turning alloys into a bendable state. While polymers have more plasticity and are therefore easier to shape and mold, metals have always been a challenge in additive manufacturing. Metal in liquid form offers much more flexibility for injection into 3D printing devices, but the amount of liquidity needed to make metals usable can also affect their ability to hold a shape once expressed on a medium.

When metal powder is used in 3D printing, it is usually heated using a plasma torch or similar heat source or it is melted in a furnace. Additional particles may be mixed in during the heating process depending on the end product created. The metal will need to be at the correct temperature because too much heating will render the metal unusable, as mentioned above, but too little heat will cause the metal to lose its plasticity or become too brittle.

Metal 3D printing requires the use of a printing device that dispenses the liquefied metal, but to do this in an orderly fashion computer-aided design (CAD) is usually used. This software can be used to create the precise designs that a 3D printer follows, and engineers and designers use CAD software to create instructions for how a 3D printed object will look, including its dimensions and shape. density.

Most 3D printers that work with metal also include their own built-in software applications and settings. These can be used to customize controls, internal and external, as well as to capture the different types of materials a printer works with. Different materials may require different tools or nibs to attach to printheads or nozzles, and the rate at which materials are expressed will vary depending on design, metal, and purpose.

Manufacturing and rapid prototyping of metal components

One of the biggest advantages of metal 3D printing is that these technologies can be used for rapid prototyping as well as for manufacturing finished products. Prototyping is a process where ideas are put into physical form to see how they work outside of conceptualization. In the past, creating prototypes for complex objects was an expensive and time-consuming endeavor that could take weeks, months, or even longer.

Through the use of metal 3D printing, prototypes can be created in days or even hours using a variety of alloys. Another advantage of rapid prototyping is that several different prototypes can be created quickly by modifying a single design.

Credit: US Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

This can give manufacturers and engineers a chance to see and feel how a component works before sending it off to a factory for mass production. Rapid prototyping also opens the door to custom and one-of-a-kind production opportunities from customer files downloaded from the Internet.

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