Affordable 3D metal printing?
Back in 2013 we looked at the Solid Concepts gun that was 3D printed using the SLS process. That is very cool, but also a very expensive bit of kit. While it is not SLS, there is a new option that looks to bring 3D metal printing to a more affordable price point. The Mini Metal Maker extrudes a metallic clay while printing. After the print, the object is heated to temperatures between 600° and 900° C, causing the binding agent of the clay to melt away as the metal particles are sintered together. And it is going to do all this for around $2K.
The fly in the ointment, if there is one, is the resolution. In plastics, even the $349 PrintBot Simple can print at 100 microns, and the more expensive units get even finer. The Mini Metal Maker is still at 250 microns. That’s a big difference. For now. One would guess that fine detail will only improve as the process matures. You can read more about the Mini Metal Maker at their indiegogo campaign.
The future of 3D printing
We were talking about the future of 3D printing the other day and I was curious to know what the state of modeling tools for the novice is. I downloaded Sketchup and had a quick look around my desk. I found a processor cap and set about trying to recreate it in 3D. That’s the result of a rather quick run at it up above (click it to see the whole thing). It was surprisingly simple. A few peeks at the manual and a couple Google searches and I had a reasonable accurate representation.
Granted, not a lot of home users have a pressing need for processor caps, but it does illustrate that the software exists for the average user to make their own parts. Add in the continually expanding collections of downloadable models that are ready to be printed and you can see that this could be a very big deal. It will be exciting to watch what happens in the 3D space in the next few years as prices come down and the quality of the software continues to improve.
3D printing a gun
A ‘printed’ gun is what has grabbed the headlines as this story has started rolling around the internet, but for me that’s just a detail, and certainly not the big story. I suppose it speaks to the current political climate where guns are concerned that this has become the big part of the story. It really shouldn’t be the focus. The gun is interesting for what it says about the technology, not because it is a gun.
3D printing is the future. And this 3D printed gun from Solid Concepts gives the latest shining example of why that is. The 3D printers that are available to consumers currently are interesting. They’re fun, and hint at great things to come. But this… this is amazing. The fact that Solid Concepts made this gun, and fired multiple rounds through it safely, is huge. It would be one thing to make a custom clutch lever for a motorcycle, or some such. But that is just going to have to withstand a few pounds of force in use. The 3D gun withstands 20,000 psi with every shot. That is remarkable.
The important thing to take away from this story is learning about the technology of Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). This is the technology that takes us another step closer to the science fiction future of clicking a button on a console and having a finished product come out of the wall. Here’s a look at the Solid Concepts gun in action.
Inching ever closer to 3D printing
I think it’s a safe bet that at some point in our futures 3D printing is going to be ubiquitous. It will be no more surprising to find the capability at someone’s house than an inkjet printer is today. That future is not today. 3D printing is still very much in the enthusiast/hobbyist niche at this point, but we are slowly moving closer. The release of the Makerbot Digitizer is the next step. Taking the requirement for the running and manipulation of modeling software out of the equation is a big step toward wider adoption. There is more info on the Digitizer, as well as the Replicator, at the Makerbot website.
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