While it is gaining ground in the automotive and aerospace industries, metal 3D printing is still prohibitively expensive for most makers. There are of course several 3D printing service providers who offer limited metal 3D printing services, but the available options are typically only ideal for specific types of jewelry or smaller sized objects, and again often quite expensive. However if someone is simply seeking the aesthetic look of metal and not looking to spend a lot of money then options are pretty limited, with the exception of metal plating.
There are several online tutorials that will show users how to make their own metal plating systems, but they often require a considerable amount of investment in time simply sourcing the materials, much less in actually figuring out the process. Complete and automated systems are also available, but one again are considerably more expensive than small businesses or individuals can afford. Independent jewelers and artists are often left using expensive and time consuming third parties to plate products for them. But with the rapidly dropping cost of at-home manufacturing systems like desktop 3D printers and CNC machines, it was only a matter of time before low cost plating systems started to appear on the market.
Italian 3D printer and desktop machine manufacturing company Robot Factory finally showed off their desktop galvanic plating system at Maker Faire Rome last week, and even demonstrated how easy it is to use by plating objects right at their booth. Robot Factory says that their CopperFace systems takes all of the guesswork out of metal plating. The system seems to have everything needed to start plating those Yoda heads right away, including an energy supply, glass anodizing tank, phosphorus copper anodes, copper sulphate acid solutions and an automatic magnetic stirrer. The kit will also include essentials like a conductive spray that turns virtually anything into a metal platable object, disposable gloves and part cleaning and post processing supplies.
Galvanic metal plating seems more complicated than it actually is, and is ideal for all types of materials, not just for metals and cheap jewelry. Non-conductive materials, including stone, plastics, cloth, paper, wax and even dried food or solid organic material can easily be made conductive using the kits graphite or silver spray. Once the small part has been made electric current conductive it simply needs to be immersed in the small glass tank filled with a metal salt rich electrolyte solution attached to the automatic stirrer. Once the electric current is activated the metal salts are drawn out from the solution and bonded to the part.
The electroplating process itself is relatively quick, which is why it is a popular alternative to creating real metal parts when only the aesthetics of metal are required. And the CoppeFace machine measures the electrical current and automatically stirs the part to ensure an even coating. Because different metals need to have an electric current applied for a different length of time to effectively bond, there is no guesswork involved when using Copperface and much less room for error. Once the machine lets the user know that the process is complete, the newly metal-plated part simply needs to be removed, rinsed in water and dried with a soft cloth.
Robot Factory unveiled their new desktop electroplating system at this year’s Maker Faire Rome held on October 16th to the 18th, and wowed attendees when they demonstrated the simple process during the show. Copperface joins the Robot Factory family of small-scale, inexpensive jewelry making products, including a whole range of desktop CNC machines, FDM and DLP 3D printers, and even a UV Oven that strengthens parts printed using UV curing technology. You can find out more about CopperFace and all of Robot Factory’s products over on their website, and you can request pricing and more specific technical details here.
Have you been able to test this system out? Let us know in the CopperFace forum thread on 3DPB.com.