The process of 3D printing is called additive manufacturing, there are a few different methods and processes to choose from. Fused deposition modeling uses spools of plastic filaments that are melted and layered to make solid objects and it is widely used in open source DIY 3D printers. But for producing metal parts you need a different technology. Selective laser sintering uses a high power laser to fuse tiny bits of metal, ceramic or glass powders into a desired 3D shape on the surface of a powder bed, one layer at a time. After each layer is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness, and a new layer of material is applied.
Andreas Bastian, Swarthmore College engineering student wanted to produce complext pieces in metal. The current selective laser sintering techniques rely on high-power lasers, plasma jets, or electric arcs and have high costs. After trying a few different methods he has built up a low-cost laser sintering wax 3D printer. He mixes powder wax with activated carbon and the printer blast the mixture of wax and carbon with a high powered laser. After one layer is applied, the powder bed is lowed for a new layer to be added on top. The process is repeated until the part is completed. Once the wax model is produced, he can then make a mold to it for a traditional lost-wax casting process. This is the same method that gt2P used to develop their furniture construction systems. The metal piece is then casted. This combination creates complex and durable metal parts in relatively low cost.
Andreas has listed the cost for each items he used, such as linear bearings, stepper drivers, lasers, 5kgs Candelilla wax powder, Sieves, Aluminum angle stock, etc. The total cost of this project is around $700 which is affordable for individuals. Andreas shares this project and his research as open source for further development.
For more technical details please check out Andreas' complete report on the project.
Posted in 3D Printers
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