The 3D printing space is growing by leaps and bounds on a daily basis. The technology continues to improve, as prices come down and more companies begin to understand the benefits that additive manufacturing can provide, not only for their rapid prototyping needs, but for the streamlining of supply chains as well. 3D printing is beginning to give small Ma and Pa businesses the ability to do things that only large Fortune 500 companies were capable of a decade ago.
While desktop 3D printers are available now starting at well under $1000, companies that wish to print in a larger range of materials than what is offered on desktop FFF or SLA 3D printers must still be willing to fork over a much larger chunk of money. Then when it comes to 3D printing in metal, not even mid- to large-sized companies are able to afford that type of technology. 3D metal printers can cost up to and over $1 million, pricing just about all but the Fortune 500 companies out of the market.
One company hopes to change this though. i-Scientifica is a company which has developed a working prototype for a 3D metal printer, as well as unique metal inks for use within the printer. They have already provided a proof of concept with various metals being printed directly from CAD data.
“The process allows for extremely complex geometries in design, freeform surfaces and completely closed hollow parts and structures can be realised,” George Kriel of i-Scientifica tells 3DPrint.com. “The process further allows for multi material metal printing and bi-metal printing at the same time.”
Unlike most 3D metal printers, which utilize laser sintering to melt layers of powdered metal, one layer at a time, the 3D printer that i-Scientifica has come up with uses an entirely different method; a method that requires less capital expenditure on materials. Their printer uses a jetting device to deposit very thin layers of metal ink onto a substrate. Each layer of metal ink which is laid down is cured/fused in order to form a solid metallic layer. This is done, one layer at a time, until a complete object is built up.
“The part is built up at a very high resolution, ranging from Nano-meter to Micro-meter layer thickness depending on design, ink properties and type of required part resulting in a part that requires minimal post processing if any,” Kriel tells us.
This technique can be used for creating highly detailed metal objects, such as jewelry, or for use in 3D printing electronics, PC boards, flexible electronics, and micro parts for medical devices.
The company has been focused on creating specially formulated metal inks that allow for the printing of gold (18ct yellow or white), rose gold, pure silver (930 silver), pure palladium (950 palladium), and they are just finalizing a pure platinum (950 platinum) ink. On top of this, they have also developed inks for aluminum, stainless steel, chrome/cobalt, and titanium.
Because only the amount of material that is printed needs to be used in the process, unlike SLS techniques where plenty of excess material is needed in order to create the layers of the powder bed, the cost per object printed is a lot less expensive. And although these materials are typically able to be reused, who wants to buy ounces upon ounces of gold or platinum powder just to print an object the size of a ring? At the same time, current 3D metal printers on the market are priced extremely high (upwards of $1 million). i-Scientifica’s machine will start in the $40,000 range, a price point that many mid-size businesses could easily afford. This price will change a little bit depending on exactly which build size is purchased and how many different metals the customer wishes to print with at once.
Below you will find the general specifications of this new machine:
- Build Area Options: 200 x 70 x 80 mm / 200 x 140 x 80 mm/ 300 x 210 x 150 mm
- Z Layer: 300nm to 5um
- Print Resolution: 1080 x 1020
- Software: Printer platform specific
The company is currently looking to get seed stage investors on board so that they can build their first beta line of printers and further develop the metal inks before taking this unique 3D printer to market. The company currently is located in South Africa but they are looking at relocating their main operations to the United States and/or Europe.
“We believe that we have a real business model unlike other precious metal printers on the market when it comes to price point and operating costs whereby only the quantity of material needed to print a part/s is determent on the volume/weight of part/s and not on the build platform size of the printer,” Kriel explains.
This certainly seems like it could be a groundbreaking product. At a price point under $50,000, and with the ability to print in a multitude of different metals within the same print, such a machine would surely be quite attractive to various industries. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this company as they continue the development of this 3D printer. What do you think? Is i-Scientifica onto something? Discuss in the i-Scientifica forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below of the machine in action: