Materials, materials, materials. When it comes to 3D printing, the biggest improvement that most in the industry wish to see, is the ability to print in more materials. Currently, most consumer level 3D printers are restricted to printing primarily in plastics, however, one 17-year-old from Virginia, named Sagar Govani, is well on his way to changing this. He is in the process of creating a 3D printer, more specifically a 3D printer extruder, that is capable of printing using metal filament.
We’ve seen attempts at this before. For example, others have creating 3D printers that are basically robotic welding machines, but these are far from being able to be operated safely in the comfort of your own garage, let alone inside a home. Most industrial level 3D metal printers utilize a selective laser sintering technology, where a metal power is melted layer-by-layer, using a specialized laser. These are both dangerous and extremely expensive.
Sagar Govani, however, takes a totally different approach. He based his idea on that of traditional FDM 3D printers – the ones that print in plastics, by melting and extruding molten PLA or ABS. He simply replaced the plastic with a metal alloy (solder), which consists mainly of tin (95.8% tin, 4% copper, and 0.2% silver). It uses an electronically heated coil to melt the metal, and another nozzle that deposits flux after each layer.
“It’s currently a solder which is a blend of antimony tin and selenium,” Govani tells 3DPrint.com. “The melting point is 274°. Im still researching how I would make it stronger, as it has to melt at low temperatures.”
Of course there will be many limitations for the type of metals and metal alloys that could be used with this printer, due to their melting points. Govani, however, plans to continue his research and development of more material options. In the two test prints that he has created, he printed 5 layers. The objects hold up about as good as their plastic counterparts do, with the exception of increased dentability, which can be expected.
Once he has completed the design and perfected it, Govani hopes to launch a Kickstarter project. It won’t be for an entire 3D metal printer, as his printer is basically a modified RepRap. Instead it will be a campaign to raise funds for the production of a 3D metal printing extruder. This extruder will be able to be added to already built 3D printers, thus allowing current 3D printer owners to print using metal. This extruder will also be based on a RepRap version, but it will require metal parts that can hold up to extruding metal filament. “I will soon begin the process of CAD designing each part and getting them CNC’ed out of stainless steel,” explained Govani. “I am trying to make a metal extruder that would work as a drop-in part for any plastic printer.”
This seems to be the main task remaining for Govani, as figuring out a formula for creating an extruder that is capable of handing the wear and tear of metal filament will be key.
“The most difficult part is making sure the molten metal doesn’t erode the nozzle, as my first nozzle went from .5mm to over 2mm due to some sort of chemical reaction between the 2 materials,” Govani tells 3DPrint.com. “Also the next problem is getting the solder filament to actually flow, it cools around the nozzle and forms a cap so I need to find a way to heat the whole nozzle better.”
You would think that the costs to create a 3D printer or extruder which is capable of printing in metal would be exceptionally high. However, Govani tells us that he is able to do so for under $100.
So how much can we expect Govani to sell these for, if and when he launches a Kickstarter campaign?
“I believe that after I can get a production version made I can sell it for around $150 and produce it for around $75,” he explains.
What do you think? Will this extraordinary idea work out? Would you be interested in printing objects using the 95.8% tin, 4% copper, and 0.2% silver blend? Discuss this idea in theAffordable Metal 3D Printer thread on 3DPB.com