June 14, 2014

3D printing in plastic materials is becoming quite accessible to home and hobby users. If you're a hobbyist on a typical budget wanting to 3D print in metal, however, the price is not cheap. The typical process, called "laser sintering," works by applying a thin layer of powder on a base plate, which is laser fused. This technique is very different from the RepRap-type fused-filament 3D printers and is much more expensive.

Sagar Govani, a 17 year old high school senior, plans to develop an affordable metal 3D printer that works like a FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printer. Instead of plastic filament, Sagar uses a metal wire, like a spring as 'ink'. Along with that he uses a higher temp heating coil to melt it and an aluminum 3mm nozzle to deposits flux after each layer. And a fan will blow dry ice vapor onto the piece to cool it.

This project is designed to:

> Cost less then $1000
> Be the same size factor as normal 3d Printers
> Use as many recycled electronic parts as possible
> Make it as simple as possible
> Make it safe

At this stage, Instead of making a new 3D printer, Sagar is busy with modifying the hot end (extruder) of a printer to take a metal alloy as filament. "I chose to modify a reprap due to their popularity and ease of modification." notes Sagar. "This will make it easier for more people to replicate my project."

Image credit: Dust's RepRap

The solder he is using consists of 95.8% tin, 4% copper and 0.2% silver. It comes in 3mm thick spools, and melts at 235C, which is around the temperature for high temp plastic printers.

"A tin based soldering wire is what I'm planning due to tins' properties, where it will stick to copper but not to stainless steel, and its relatively low melting point." notes Sagar. "Knowing this I will machine a 1mm nozzle for a reprap hotend out of stainless steel and make a printbed out of scratched up copper sheet."

"I have tested my theory by making 1 layer by hand using a soldering iron, the resulting part was a bit inconsistent in height." says Sagar. "And the solder liked to form a bubble instead of making a shape, for the actual printer I will need to make the print bed a metal that solder likes to stick to."

Concept test

Sagar's task is to find a best way to heat the nozzle to get the solder flow. Sagar told us, "The most difficult part is making the nozzle a adequate thermal mass, and finding the perfect sweet spot for the temperature so that the nozzle wont clog up, and so that it solidifies in time before the next layer."

After refining his invention, Govani intends to launch a Kickstarter campaign for this extruder. In addition, he also plans to make versions for the already popular printers as a 3rd party add-on kit. Govani says he can produce this extruder for around $75, so he could probably sell it for around $150.

If you would like to support Sagar's research you can go on his hackaday project link and give him +1 skull to help him win a trip to space.

Posted in 3D Printers

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Jackson wrote at 6/16/2014 10:44:40 AM:

His "Idea" of using FDM printing with metal has already been used on a lulzbot with much better results than his simple T. http://forum.lulzbot.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=380&p=1992&hilit=bam#p1992 The fact that he lifted the image from someone else, and that this has already been used makes this a rather unnewsworthy article.

Anja wrote at 6/16/2014 6:41:57 AM:

@Dust: We have added the image credit to your site. However please contact Sagar Govani as well, this image was taken from his project page.

Dust wrote at 6/16/2014 6:28:21 AM:

I would really like to know why there is a picture of my really old ABS extruder is doing in the middle of this article. See http://dustsreprap.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/restrapping-cartesian-bot.html Without out any Attribution even!

Bicking wrote at 6/15/2014 8:50:24 AM:

@Sum ting Wong - he never approached you in the first place :p

Jeff wrote at 6/14/2014 1:48:43 PM:

Interesting for hobby use, and could find a use in protptype electronics as well (depending on how it works), The concept is not going to work with higher temp metals (at a home use level). Melting points of metals (increasing order, temperature in C) are: Selenium 217 Tin 232 Babbitt 249 Bismuth 271.4 Cadmium 321 Lead 327.5 Zinc 419.5 Antimony 630 The few lower than that are not much use to build things out of (Mercury, Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus. All the rest are higher and I dounbt a system like this will work even for Antimony. Still, there are some hobby projects that can be made with these metals.

Sum-Ting Wong wrote at 6/14/2014 11:09:15 AM:

Get back to us once you have the stainless steel system up and running.

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