April 15, 2014

Thanks to a technique developed by the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), more metals can be used in 3D printing.

ECN and its partners have developed so-called Digital Light Processing-based technology (DLP) for 3D printing ceramic materials, and tests have shown that this technology can also be used for printing metals, providing a higher-quality alternative to existing 3D metal-shaping techniques.

The advantage of this technology is that the material is constructed in a superior way, which – in contrast to existing, universally used 3D technologies – does not involve melting the metals. This will result in well-compacted, homogeneous and therefore high-grade materials.

The market is already showing a lot of interest in various metals and metal alloys that can be used under extreme conditions and in high-vacuum environments. The DLP technology offers new possibilities for high-tech sectors, in particular, because machine parts can now be produced that were not possible in the past. This can involve a multiplicity of metals and metal alloys.

"We can develop these kinds of techniques because we have expertise in building up thin layers of material and in powder metallurgical shaping," says Jan Opschoor, researcher in Materials, Testing & Analysis at ECN.

To date, ECN has shown that it is feasible to use DLP technology to build up metal products in layers. ECN is seeking partners in the private and public sectors to further the development of the technology and get it ready for the market. Opschoor: "We think that this technology will make a large number of new applications possible that could not be produced, or could hardly be produced, in the past."

Digital Lighting Process

Previously, ECN had already supported the development of this "additive manufacturing" technology for the 3D printing of ceramic materials. This was achieved in partnership with InnoTech Europe B.V. and Formatec Ceramics.

The three partners have used the technique to develop a printer in which ceramic material, mixed with a photopolymer layer, is exposed to light layer by layer to cure. Next the photopolymer is baked out. After the sintering treatment the ceramic product is ready for use.

This method is able to make 3D prints much faster than any other 3D print technology. Moreover, a much better quality of materials can be realised with DLP as compared to conventional 3D printing techniques: it yields very homogenous materials that show equally spread density and conductivity. This technique can also be used to produce metals and composite materials such as cermets.

The photo demonstrates the large range of possibilities of ceramic 3D printing. In the left far corner you can see a ceramic filer element. In front of it are the worm drives for the SMT driving units. In the front centre is a gear with a complex shape. Behind it you can see an electrical connector. On the right front side lies a printed watch case made of ceramics.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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MS wrote at 10/13/2014 10:47:52 PM:

Parts are sintered in the kiln, but if you want to do it at home, be VERY CAREFUL, powdered metals are highly explosive, kiln needs to have controlled environment (preferably argon) or you can excidently burn your whole house, additionally you need very strong dlp projector or laser, metal bids are reflective and curing time is significantly longer

Jon wrote at 7/22/2014 6:15:00 PM:

I expect that they use a post treatment in an oven to sinter the metal or ceramic afterwards and burn away glue. It is a really old tech equal to Liquid Composite Molding, they just do it in layers.

ManaDigitalABQ wrote at 4/23/2014 3:31:01 AM:

B9 creator hack? Interesting...And now Im wondering of simply adding some powders then a kiln could produce metal prints on mine? Wow...Im amazed and enlightened by this. Lets hope it is truly a solution.

pizzaslice wrote at 4/16/2014 4:38:44 PM:

Ceramic parts can be purchased via Admatech. ECN and Formatech created a company called Admatech. Metals can be printed up to 100 layers, 10 micrometer thickness per layer. Metal technology is being developed at ECN by Jan Opschoor. PS. not affiliated with ECN

Suro wrote at 4/16/2014 1:45:34 PM:

Agreed - They never really said how the metal was supposedly bonded - only that it didn't involve (much) heat.

Ben wrote at 4/15/2014 5:29:12 PM:

sooo you have resin bonded metal flakes that were in suspension? Or HOW did they accomplish this?? Corrosives?

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