With demand for silver dating all the way back to ancient Babylon, its uses continue to expand today. According to market experts, silver will be impacting several areas like flexible electronics, light emitting diodes, and interposers, but silver is also pairing up with the smart new kid on the block, who is busy blowing away production methods and use of materials as we know it: 3D printing.
Investors are watching, as mediums and methods continue to evolve in 3D printing, mixing the world of commodities and emerging technology into a new and profitable recipes. 3D printing is employing a host of metal materials, including silver, a standard alloy for jewelry purposes, as well as the printing of currency.
Affordability of silver has been a concern in the silver market in past years, as its ever-growing uses in industry make it scarce for other arenas such as currency printing. There is a surge of silver being used to make appliances, phones, washing machines, furniture accessories, and computers.
In the 3D printing industry, silver is currently being manipulated through:
- Laser sintering
With lost-wax casting, a type of stereolithography, a wax pattern is created, and then a plaster mold is made around the wax, so the model doesn’t fall apart. During the firing process, the wax falls away, allowing metal parts, such as silver, to then be cast in the mold.
In laser sintering, a high powered laser fuses the metal particles into a three-dimensional shape. After a cross-section is sintered, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness, with a new layer of material being applied on top, with the process being repeated until the piece is finished.
What’s interesting about laser sintering and what makes it different from a process such as stereolithography is that it does not require support structures due to the fact that the part being constructed is surrounded by unsintered powder at all times, allowing for construction. While the casting process is more popular, the use of the laser technology is growing and evolving, and becoming more cost-effective as well.
In 2013 total physical silver demand came to a whopping 1,081.1 million ounces, with the jewelry industry using around 200 million ounces of silver per year. The Silver Institute reports that industrial demand for the metal will grow by 5 percent a year from 2014 to 2016, “outpacing forecasted global GDP growth.” It is expected that the 3D printing industry will call for an unknown but perhaps substantial increase in that usage statistic.
Silver has a long history as a mover and shaker in the industries of money and jewelry, keeping a consistent grip on investors, and moving in tandem with gold prices. With the promise of lower production costs due to 3D design and printing, both the jewelry and currency production industry are sure to be touched. There may be a gold rush on the 3D innovation market but silver is going to be a major player due to its timeless demand from consumers, as well as it’s malleability in myriad constructions. How much will the silver market be influenced in the long run may be too difficult to predict, as new applications within the 3D printing space seem to pop up over night. Let’s hear your thoughts on this story in the 3D silver printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.