Wolfmet 3D is the commercialization of 3D Printing methods developed at M & I Metals to 3D print tungsten. The company is a service bureau that makes tungsten 3D printed components for industry. Tungsten is not completely new to 3D printing with us having written about a study looking into the parameters of 3D printed tungsten and looking at Philips subsidiary Smit Rontgen 3D printing tungsten.
Now, Wolfmet 3D will try to conquer the world with this very special very dense material that for our industry is very exotic. To introduce their product the Wolfmet3D team is exhibiting at the TCT show in Birmingham and we interviewed them about 3D printing tungsten. Curious about them? Check them out at stand G41.
What is Wolfmet 3D?
Wolfmet 3D is the revolutionary additive manufacturing process whereby we produce 3D printed parts via SLM. It allows us to make parts which would either be impossible or not economical using traditional subtractive techniques.
What are the applications for 3D printed tungsten?
Extensive! It really is a very exciting time. Medical and industrial imaging in many ways are at the forefront of recent developments, but we are making new advances all the time in other areas too. To give just one example, we are in discussions with clients interested in tungsten’s heat resistant properties, which opens up another field of possible applications.
Tungsten is a very heavy metal. We almost always think about lightweighting things using 3D printing. But your material is used to make things heavier?
As you indicate, tungsten has a very high density (approx. 60% denser than lead). In the applications we have discovered so far for Wolfmet 3D, it is valued for its radiation attenuation properties, derived from the density, and also its heat resistance. The weight is really incidental.
What do you see as future applications for 3D printing tungsten?
Future opportunities are perhaps only limited by our own imagination, so our specialists work in partnership with leading research institutes and universities to ensure we are at the forefront of new developments across the globe.
How is tungsten used in vibration damping?
Tungsten’s high density enables it to act as a vibration weight in various dynamic applications.
Why does one want to 3D print a collimator?
The collimator’s function in an imaging system is to focus beams of radiation (gamma or x-ray) onto a detector and to filter out stray beams which might distort the signal. The detector’s software converts the signals into a 3D image of the subject. Until the arrival of Wolfmet 3D, most collimators were made from lead. Lead has several disadvantages – it is toxic and has to be handled with care and it is relatively soft. Most importantly, from the point of view of imaging systems, its density is much lower than that of tungsten. As a result, lead collimators are much less effective in screening out stray beams and, therefore, give inferior image quality.
What is the DEPICT system?
The DEPICT system was developed by a consortium which included Kromek and the University of Liverpool. Its function is to measure the amount of radioactivity issuing from a thyroid cancer patient during radiation therapy. This enables the medical staff to personalise the dosage of each treatment according to the patient’s physique and metabolism. The DEPICT team acknowledged early on that a tungsten collimator would give much more accurate readings than a lead one and we are very proud to have worked with them on this project.
Do you see many more applications in MRI or imaging generally?
Yes absolutely, Wolfmet 3D helps to make the innovations of our clients possible. Wolfmet tungsten has been shown to be MRI compatible in terms of its magnetic properties. This, together with the advantages that using tungsten can bring, makes it an exciting prospect for the future.
Are imaging apertures also a good application for your technology?
“In principle, yes, if the design is complex, as is increasingly the case.”
Isn’t shrinkage a huge problem with tungsten?
There is no shrinkage with the SLM technology which we use. I believe that this is not always the case with other Additive Manufacturing methods.
What kind of part properties can you get with this material?
The density is typically 94 – 96%. We have a continuous improvement programme designed to optimise the physical properties.
What kind of alloys are available?
At present we offer 100% tungsten components but as this is such a rapidly developing market, we are of course looking at other options. We have clients who are interested in developing other tungsten-based materials, but I’m afraid that I am also prevented from saying more due to our confidentiality agreements.