Baltimore, MD-based RePliForm comes on strong not just as a great company focused on offering customized services to their 3D printing customers, but also quite literally in terms of what they can add to your 3D printed models.
Specializing in providing post-processing solutions to the 3D printing community, their focus is mainly in metal plating. We’ve reported on this process before, regarding a trend that leaves numerous, affordable options for users who one, do not have access to a metal 3D printer, and two, can’t afford to do something like printing in solid gold or a precious metal.
Metal 3D printing is generally reserved for high industry companies producing quality components for numerous sectors such as automotive and aerospace. The 3D printers themselves are costly, generally only for industrial use, and operate by melting multiple layers of metal powder together.
While we’ve seen many 3D printing processes—including 3D printers and 3D scanners—begin as cost-prohibitive, the making community is known most certainly for being resourceful, creative, and innovative—and where there’s a will, there’s a way; so for most cost-prohibitive methods, makers and startups are providing more affordable ways to produce quality 3D prints from almost every angle.
While 3D printing with metal offers extremely dense metal with superior mechanical qualities and often complex geometries, those who can settle for metal plating can achieve exactly what they were looking for—and often far more—at a fraction of the price.
With a multitude of retail gadgets and items that come not only in plain finish but also very expensive options these days like solid gold, many of the technologically savvy users out there are finding they can get exactly the same look with 3D printing and metal plating. Aesthetics aside though, the strength that the process adds is what is most attractive.
Metal plating, while it lends itself to all the usual fun projects, also can be extremely valuable for parts and components; for example, RePliForm’s metal plating adds significant strength to parts like propellers. Their 3D printed version without metal plating was only performing at about 30 percent efficiency. That can be raised exponentially, to 100 percent, with metal plating. In comparison to 3D printed parts without metal plating, they tend to become brittle and break down. With metal plating, 3D printed parts offer not only maximum performance, but also longevity.
RePliForm uses both an electrolytic and electroless plating process, with plating thickness varying depending on project. With nickel finish, they offer the following:
- Structural/Semibright – with each, all flaws and imperfections must be eliminated before plating or they will show through.
- Buffed – lines and imperfections can still be seen, but the quality difference is evident. This is RePliForm’s fastest form of post-processing finish.
- Brushed/Polished– these both require much more preparation, as parts must be sanded to 600 grit first, as again, imperfections will be notable in the plated finish if the part is not properly prepared.
- Bead Blast/Black Patina– used for standard plating in finishing raised surfaces for letters and logos. A protectant wax or clear coating layer is required afterward.
With copper finish, they offer the following:
- Semibright – standard finish where lines and imperfections must, again, be removed. Generally used for electrical products, the semibright finish may also be used before plating with gold or silver.
- Polished Copper – Parts will need to be sanded to 600 grit. This process is usually a preliminary step to metal plating in gold, silver, chrome, and other precious metals. A polished copper finish usually requires lacquering after plating.
- Bronze Patina – Layered over the semibright copper, with lines and imperfections showing through. The patina is usually used for formal finish, with trophies being a good example.
Have you used metal plating for any of your 3D models? Share with us in the Nickel & Copper Plated 3D Models forum over at 3DPB.com. Check out a video from RePliForm below, as well as another photo of a finish.