The Dawning of Metal
We know plastics have predominantly been the material of choice when it comes to 3D printing. Commercially, other materials have been tried – concrete, bio-ink and dough – were proven successful. There’s one material, though, that presents some degree of challenge. Metal. Industrial printers are up to the task, but we’ve yet to see a commercial 3D printer that can create objects out of metal with the same ease others print with plastic.
Researchers from Yale University think they’ve found a way to make 3D printing metal objects easier than ever before. They published their study in the journal Materials Today recently. Actual metals, being not in a printable state – meaning they can’t easily be soft enough to form into different shapes – were not used in this study, but instead bulk metallic glasses or BMGs.
What is a BMG? It’s a metallic material that doesn’t exhibit the same rigid atomic structure as most metal alloys. They can soften more easily than most other metals, but they are still strong with high elastic limits, fracture toughness, and corrosion resistance, which are qualities typically associated with metals.
The researchers focused on a readily available BMG containing zirconium, titanium, copper, nickel, and beryllium. They used the same conditions to 3D print with plastics by forcing rods of their BMG through a feeding system heated to 460°C to soften the material. As a result, they found they could print a number of different shapes out of the high-strength metal material. They have also used other types of BMGs. The next step is making the process more practical and commercially usable.
The applications for 3D printed metal parts are limitless. The automotive industry could use them, and so can aeronautics and space, engineering, medical and dental fields, housing, and many more. What this research proved is that commercial 3D printing is not too far off from the era of plastics to that of metal.
Anticipating the Metal Era in Seattle
It certainly is going to look rosy (or gray, if you will) when metal becomes the new printing material of choice in 3D printing. Until that time, there are other dependable materials we can use for 3D printing. So when you’ve got an idea for a project of yours, come consult us at 3D Composites in Seattle.