If you’ve been keeping up with 3D printing news at all, you’re probably pretty familiar with metal 3D printing by now. It’s one of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry; just about every major 3D printer manufacturer is scrambling to keep up with the rapidly developing metal technology. Not only is it becoming less expensive and more accessible, but material capabilities keep expanding, with new metals and alloys being introduced on what seems like a weekly basis by certain companies.
Even if you have only a basic knowledge of metal 3D printing, you probably know that it’s done with powder materials, using laser sintering to fuse together layers of metallic powders. This differs greatly from resin printers, which deposit layers of melted filament via extruder, and it’s why metal printers, for a long time, have been large, pricey machines relegated to industrial applications. But that’s all about to change, as two companies have partnered to prototype a new metal 3D printer that prints with wire-feed technology instead of powder
ZBOT/Guangzhou DNSPOWER Design Co. is a Chinese manufacturer that produces a variety of industrial and desktop 3D printers. Their US supplier, 3D MakerJet, Inc., is based in Orlando, Florida, and together the new companies have developed an as-yet unnamed printer that will print metal from extruded filament rather than powder. Not much detail has been released at this time, but the printer will use wire-like metal alloy filament, such as copper, that will be fed into the printer and extruded like a resin filament would be.
Wire-feed additive manufacturing isn’t unheard of, but at this point it’s still very rarely used due to a number of limitations. (You can read a nice overview of wire-feed additive manufacturing here.) Many experts agree that it has a lot of potential, but so far it’s been pretty much stuck in the research and development phase. According to 3D MakerJet and ZBOT, however, their new printer is going to be an “industry first” that will to drag powderless wire-feed printing into the light.
An exact release date hasn’t been provided, but 3D MakerJet says that it will be this year. It’s still just a prototype, and it’s currently shrouded in mystery: the closest thing we’re getting to specifications is that it is expected to be about 3 feet tall, and 2’6″ wide. Not a very big guy, then, as metal printers go, and that’s part of its appeal. 3D MakerJet states that the printer will bring a lot of advantages to industrial metal additive manufacturing, “including those of mobile mounted printers.”
“On site, on the job, these printers have the potential to eliminate the high prices and long lead times of back-ordered, hard-to-source and even obsolete parts,” said John Crippen, 3D MakerJet President. “The market for metal printing is continuing to grow and 3D MakerJet is poised to introduce a true breakthrough.”
That’s about all the information we have right now, but if the printer is scheduled to be released this year, then more details should be forthcoming very soon. 3D MakerJet also has a few other products that should be coming soon, including a full-body 3D scanner and a candy 3D printer. Discuss this new prototype and impending release in the Powderless Metal 3D Printer forum over at 3DPB.com.