Last week, the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) held its annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Many 3D printing announcements came out of the show, but the one I’m most excited about is the news that Custom Prototypes, a Toronto-based 3D printing company that always produces enjoyable work, has taken first place in the Advanced Finishing category of the Technical Competition at the conference for the second time.
Ryan Hagerman, an industrial designer at Custom Prototypes, told 3DPrint.com, “Over the past couple months we’ve been working on another cool 3D printed project only this time with metal!”
In 2016, the Canadian prototyping firm placed first at the AMUG competition with its 3D printed, 3/4 scale replica of Van Gogh’s most famous work, Starry Night. Last year the company created an elaborate 3D printed stained glass window that was beautiful, but not award-winning. So this year, Custom Prototypes went all in, and it paid off with a well-deserved first place.
“After struggling to place last year we noticed the competition was getting higher and some of the models that were displayed were extremely well done. We knew that in order to get ahead of the competition we needed to do something truly unique and that is what led us to the decision to use metal 3D printing. There was 2 main reasons for this decision, 1 being that metal 3D printing is rarely seen in a creative way (usually just a wall bracket or pipe) and 2, we have never seen metal 3D printing being finished down to a fully polished and plated organic shape.”
The helmet, 3D printed with seven different parts using 316 stainless steel, is absolutely breathtaking. The team at Custom Prototypes, according to a company blog post, wanted to really push the envelope this year, and “tap into the real possibilities of metal printing.”
“The idea to do a 1st Century Roman Helmet came from the idea of wanting to incorporate 3 aspects. 1) 3D printed metal 2) 3D printed hair – red mohawk (achieved through a unique vertical print technique with SLA) and 3) 3D printed clear plastic (used to mimic gems and stones found during the Egyptian 1st Century BC),” Hagerman told us.
Work began months ago, starting with “endless hours” of 3D modeling with various software, including Blender, Materialise Magics, SOLIDWORKS, and ZBrush to create the right look. Described by Managing Director at Custom Prototypes Andrew Sliwa as “reproduction of a mythical golden galea presumably once worn by Roman General and Cleopatra’s partner Mark Antony,” the design was researched and modeled by San Diego-based antiquity artifacts digital designer and art history investigator Cosmo Wenman. Then, after all of the individual files had been created, Custom Prototypes 3D printed the parts using both DMLS and SLA technology – the metal parts were printed with stainless steel on a Renishaw AM250, while the plastic parts – features like the gems and stones – were made of either Somos XC11122 Watershed or Somos Evolve on an SL600 3D printer from ZRapid.
“The fact that only 3D printing technology has been used to create this helmet may already be a sign of our times showcasing the tech advancements in manufacturing,” Hagerman said to 3DPrint.com. “However, as we all know, 3D printing (especially metal 3D printing) has a lot of limits and restrictions & experience shows that not every build turns successful. We at Custom Prototypes have pushed the limits of the process to the point where we created very complex shapes and provided a finish never before achieved (at least that we’ve seen).”
After 3D printing was complete, all of the metal parts went through a long finishing process of sanding and both manual and electro polishing. Once each metal part passed a surface quality inspection, in which “nothing less than a sparkle” was deemed acceptable, it was plated in nickel and 24 carat gold.
The plastic 3D printed pieces were dyed, hand painted, and finished so they would look like real historical representations of First Century B.C. artifacts. According to the blog, each of these pieces was finely detailed in order to “mimic the grain and finish of real precious gems and stones.”
“Some of the biggest challenges were the removal of the stainless steel support. Unlike plastic, the metal’s strength properties add quite the challenge when dealing with hard to reach places where using tools like wire cutters and a dremnel pose a lot of limitations,” Hagerman told us. “Getting the helmet down to a smooth finish before it could be plated in nickel and 24 carat gold required extensive sanding and grinding to remove all micro-pockets (texture) created from the metal 3d printing sintering process.
“The next biggest challenge was creating the gems. Certain features like the Cobra and Vulture were created to mimic a Jade (vulture) and carnelian (Cobra) stones which were commonly seen during the time period. This involved a lot of trial and error involving dying, hand painting highlights & shadows and dipping it in a clear coat. Each stone had its own characteristics where some needed to be really glossy and some were more of a textured sheen finish.”
Then, as if the rest of this process wasn’t amazing enough, Custom Prototypes explained that the red mohawk hair was printed using the company’s special secret, which makes it possible to 3D print vertical substructures without using additional supports.
“After printing the tiny fibers, we hand-dyed and plasticized them with a molecular lubricant, finished with a clear coat,” the blog post explained.
Most of the 3D printed parts were designed to press fit into the shell of the helmet, while the rest were attached with a special metal adhesive.
The blog post noted, “So here we have it, after months of printing, sanding, polishing, plating, dyeing and painting we have created a First Century Roman helmet using nothing but 3D printing.”
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