Mar. 3, 2015 | By Alec
While so many of us dream about it, metal 3D printing is still everything but an affordable consumer technology. In fact, high-quality metal printing is hardly even a ‘prosumer’ technology for small businesses and start-ups, as decent machines easily cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, all that is about to change thanks to the incredible efforts of David Hartkop. While under development for several years now, his clever Mini Metal Maker, that essentially uses FDM 3D printing technology to make high-quality metal objects, is finally ready for mass-production.
Of course, the very idea that metal can be extruded like hot plastic sounds unrealistic, but David has come up with a very clever solution that combines the wonderful qualities of metal with the relatively low-cost properties of FDM 3D printing. Basically, his machine combines what is known as Precious Metal Clays (or PMC) with FDM 3D printing. His machine extrudes the metal clay just like a ceramic 3D printer extrudes regular clay, but this metal clay is essentially a blended liquid paste of metal parts with a consistency comparable to plastic filament. It’s thick enough to hold its shape when extruded, but liquid enough to fuse together when drying.
Unlike most professional-grade metal 3D printers, the objects made with the Mini Metal Maker will have to be fired up in a pottery kiln (heated to 1550˚F or 600˚C-900˚C) after drying and fusing to remove all the organic binders in the paste, but the result is great. It leaves behind the high-purity metal in the original shape it was printed in, though it slightly shrinks by 12-20%, depending on the metal and the heat used. Those objects can then be handled like any other metal components, including bending, filing, drilling and polishing to shining perfection. They can also conduct electricity and withstand higher wear than any plastic 3D printed counterpart. In short, it means no lasers, just a small electric kiln and an FDM 3D printer. Furthermore, the metal clay principle can be used to produce objects in sterling silver, gold, copper, brass, bronze, iron and steel.
The concept itself is brilliant, and it’s not difficult to image all the practical applications it can be used for. As David himself said, "It is the only fully self-contained 3D printer designed specifically for metal clay materials. This 3D printer is the perfect addition to your jewelry studio or maker workshop. […]It will be a boon for anyone interested in creating custom printing jewelry and metal ornaments. It can also be used to produce small metal parts such as gears, clips, and bushings."
However, it has taken a while to become practical. As you might recall, the Mini Metal Maker first launched on Indiegogo in late 2013, in order to raise enough money to complete the prototyping and development stages. While more complicated than originally anticipated – some problems arose with the clay, the software and the fragile build plates – all of those stages were successfully completed and everyone backing that original campaign has now also received their very early bird Mini Metal Makers.
The first round of succesfully produced Mini Metal Makers.
During that process, it has also become a much like a typical desktop FDM 3D printer, but then one that extrudes metal clay. The printer itself is 23 cm x 30 cm x 46 cm big. It’s print bed is currently sized at 8 x 8 x 8 cm, and is capable of 3D printing with a resolution of 10 (XY) by 2 (Z) microns. Its extrusion resolution is a decent 250 micron traces with 22 ga. Nozzle. And, just like any printer, it connects to a computer via USB ports and its files are prepared like any for an FDM printer. Its filament is being produced by Metal Adventuresto in collaboration with Mini Metal Maker, and will be available through the Mini Metal Maker website. Really the only difference is the kiln, which needs to be placed in a well-ventilated area.
David and Lindsay Hartkop, creators of the Mini Metal Maker
David and his team are now following up on that initial production round to take the Mini Metal Maker into mass production. "We developed it from a wooden proof-of-concept to a sturdy production-ready machine. We have made some excellent industrial manufacturing contacts and set up a relationship with a metal clay manufacturer," David tells us. "That done, we are poised to finally release the Mini Metal Maker this year."
Through this new round of crowdfunding, David and his teams hope to raise the substantial sum of $150,000 by 15 April 2015. While an ambitious amount, you have to remember that (unlike many crowdfunding projects) most of the actual work has already been done, and these Mini Metal Makers are therefore ready to ship by October 2015. A pledge of $2100 will be enough to get your hands on one of them yourself, meaning that about 71 pledges will be enough to successfully complete the crowdfunding campaign. But, as David already stated, "Regardless of the funds we raise through this campaign, we will continue moving toward this goal. Bottom line: if your contribution is for $2100USD or above, you will receive a Mini Metal Maker."
In short, David means business and the Mini Metal Maker is definitely coming this year. Metal 3D printing is finally coming to the masses.
Posted in 3D Printers
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Ram3D wrote at 3/3/2015 3:39:03 PM:
Pretty freaking amazing!