Mar. 1, 2015 | By Kira

Metal 3D printing is highly coveted by designers and makers in many industries, from aerospace engineering to medical instrument manufacturing, however the incredibly high price of these machines is an obstacle for hobbyists and small-business owners. Unless you’ve got a million dollars burning a hole in your pocket, or are backed by a company like GE or NASA, printing in gold, platinum or other conductive metals is most likely out of the question. Even the most ‘affordable’ professional 3D metal printers cost upwards of $200,000 USD.

That figure might be changing in the very near future, however. In fact, take away all those zeros, and you’re left with the price that Argentineans engineer Gastón Accardi paid to create his very own 3D metal printer prototype: two dollars. That’s right, just $2. No zeros in sight!

His invention utilizes electroplating technology to deposit metal in specific areas, eventually building up layer upon layer into a 3D object. Several types of metal can be used, including alloys, conductive and semi-conductive materials such as gold, platinum, silver, iron, titanium, nickel, chrome and bronze—basically, any material that conduces electricity. Multi-metal layering is also possible using the machine.

Accardi’s process is based on electrolysis rather than laser sintering or fused filament fabrication. “This printer is very simple,” he told It is a 3-axis CNC machine combined with an electroplating head. The CNC moves and the electroplating head deposits the metal over a building plate. Accardi controls the movements with his PC and several analysis censors.

The electrolysis phenomenon is based on an energy source with two poles. One goes to the piece you want to be coated with metal, and the other to the part that will provide the metal itself. A conductive solution (acid) such as lemon juice or sulfuric acid is also required, and for copper electroplating, he suggests diluting copper into the solution for best results.

For his $2 prototype, constructed “out of junk” and shown in the video below, the Accardi emptied the insides of a plaster marker and filled it with the copper acid solution. He then inserted a copper electrode wire so that the circuit would be electrified whenever the marker touched the surface of the plate and the ions from the copper move from the acidic solution to the marker’s tip and finally onto the conductive silver-coated build plate. “Literally you can write with copper instead of ink!” Accardi told us. “And if you write over and over hundreds of times, 3D letters start growing in a Z axis one over another.” The result: 3D printed metal objects made in your very own home.

The idea came to the 36-year-old inventor several years ago after a series of what he calls “puzzle pieces” came together in his life. The first was when he flew to the United States to buy a Zcorp 3D printer become a Zprinter technician. A few years later, he found himself designing a prototype for Volkswagen. “I was so tired of making prototypes for viewing purposes, foundry purpose, etc.” he told us. “The prototyping process was endless.” He began to think of ways to control the electro-deposition phenomenon more cheaply and efficiently. Although he came up with the idea five years ago, his busy schedule prevented him from pursuing it in real life.

Now, however, his vision has become a reality. Although this prototype is clearly just that, he does intend to raise funds to manufacture a more high-end machine that could be brought to market, and he predicts that this technology could be used by many professionals within the 3D printing industry. “In theory you can construct prototypes that can carry electronic circuits and even components inside, like transistors or censors, made with the combination of different metals in a multiple marker printer,” he told us. Objects such as “intelligent prosthetics” that can feel temperatures and pressures would not only be possible, but accessible for many.

Currently, however, he still needs to refine the process and improve the printing conditions. Two downsides that he observes are the long printing time and high amount of energy required to 3D print a metal object.

He is planning on launching a crowd-funding campaign, and estimates that he would require roughly $100,000 to fund development, and that once finalized, his 3D metal printers could be sold for between $1,000 to $2,000—literally a fraction of the current models on the market. If successful, Accardi’s invention could change the face of 3D metal printing and open a whole new world of possibilities for smaller-scale businesses and manufacturers. “I want this project to be an [organization] so we can share this with the world,” he told us. “This technology is for everyone…the best way to continue is getting the approval from the people.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology


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Woody Walker wrote at 8/19/2018 1:30:16 AM:

This process could also possibly be accomplished through vacuum electro deposition. I could almost imagine the build plate being "charged" with an image like the process in a xerox copy machine.

Eliza Cranston wrote at 11/17/2015 2:26:07 PM:

Thank you for sharing this advance in engineering technology! It's amazing that it is possible to print metal components. But it is even more amazing that it could be this inexpensive! I'm wondering if you think this will be used by a lot of engineers in the future in industrial and manufacturing trades?

MessyhairKris wrote at 3/3/2015 1:12:03 AM:

If it could be powered by Solar panel and pick up where it left off the day before, I could see it being useful for items that aren't time sensitive. Like a crockpot for metal parts!

Strid wrote at 3/2/2015 4:27:11 PM:

OMG this would print sooooooooo slow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously. Weeks to print even a 4"x4"x4" sized object. Still interesting idea. Plausible for tiny components.

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