New Service by 3D Hubs: Bringing 3D Printed Metal Parts to Market with PolyCast Materials and Investment Casting

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Online 3D printing service platform 3D Hubs, which releases helpful data reports on 3D printing trends each quarter, gave us all a valuable 3D printing guide, and shows us where to go to celebrate Global 3D Printing Day, is venturing further into the world of metal 3D printing and announcing its newest service. In partnership with Polymaker, 3D Hubs will be bringing low cost metal parts to market, using Polymaker Industrial’s new PolyCast materials for FDM printed patterns, and a global network of foundries. By working with the foundries and Polymaker, 3D Hubs will be able to offer cast metal parts that are up to five times cheaper than existing methods across the world.

Bram de Swart, 3D Hubs CEO, said, “Our customers have expressed a strong interest in large metal parts, so we’re excited to launch this innovative service on three continents and to provide them the solution they’re looking for.”

3D printing and investment casting, also known as lost wax casting, have been successfully combined before, often being used to manufacture jewelry, and several 3D printers on the market have this capability, like the Mcor ARKe and the 3D Systems Projet 3500 CPX. Autodesk’s generatively designed plane cabin seat was also produced using a combination of investment casting and 3D printing, which allowed for a large reduction in weight. The typical investment casting process produces wax patterns for casting using a machined die, since there is a very clean burn-out with no residues.

With its new service, 3D Hubs will be the first company to create these patterns using FDM castable plastic, by Polymaker. Material costs for the patterns are low, so as the sizes increase, the metal parts become more price competitive. FDM printing makes it possible to produce complex, large patterns that can’t be completed using conventional methods; you can take a look at a helpful cost comparison below.

A cost comparison for producing metal parts. 3 different parts were compared, each with varying geometries. All quotes are for parts made from stainless steel. All parts are approximately 150 x 130 x 55 mm in size.

According to 3D Hubs, “A useful rule of thumb is that if a design is approaching the size of a basketball, FDM printed patterns become the most cost effective method for producing custom metal parts with complex geometries.”

To create a metal part using 3D Hubs’ new service, the necessary pattern is 3D printed on an FDM machine. To ensure that the surface molds are clean and ready for casting, it is then polished with Polymaker’s Isopropanol micro droplet technology: this keeps small air bubbles from getting trapped on the ceramic mold’s surface, which can transfer to the final metal parts. The completed pattern is sent to a local foundry from the 3D Hubs network for investment casting; once this has been completed, any parts that have critical tolerances are machined.

“Most polymers leave residues when they decompose during the pattern burnout process,” explained Polymaker president Xiaofan Luo. “We have engineered the material to ensure that it decomposes completely at T > 600 ºC, leaving a clean mold ready for casting.”

The completed parts are then sent to the end user. The 3D Hubs team of in-house 3D printing experts manages the entire process, from the initial order to the completed part. Customers only need to send their 3D files and choice of material; current choices are aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, and stainless steel. 3D Hubs said that there will be more materials added to the service at a later date.

Large metal parts are available now, thanks to 3D Hubs Managed Services. You can also upload a file (CAD formats supported) in order to receive a free quote. You can visit 3D Hubs at RAPID + TCT in Pittsburgh this week at booth #1017, or come to the Novice Stage tomorrow at 10:30 to catch a quick talk by Dan Grigoras, 3D Hubs’ Director of Business Development. Discuss in the 3D Hubs forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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