Apr. 9, 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, numerous initatives are currently working to bring metal 3D printing to the masses, and a new and very promising venture has just launched on Kickstarter. It’s called Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments, and it has the potential to turn every desktop 3D printer into a metal manufacturer.

This interesting product has been developed by a team of veteran engineers who have worked with conventional metal injection molding and ceramic injection molding techniques since the 1980s. Led by Massachusetts-based chemical engineer Bill Kovacs, they have one goal in mind: to revolutionize the current small industrial metal and ceramic parts industry, which is annually worth $1.6 billion dollars. They firmly believe that the future of that industry is in 3D printing.

To do so, they are taking 316 Stainless Steel and Aluminum powders – the products they have worked with for decades – into the 21rst century. ‘We plan to produce ABS and PLA plastic filaments, mixed with either powdered 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum, for use in existing 3D filament printers,’ Bill explains. ‘The Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments will enable people to print items that are furnace ready to debind and sinter into solid sintered metal objects.’

The two metals in powder form.

Experienced metal workers will immediately understand the team’s choice for 316 Stainless Steel and Aluminum powders, as these are two of the most common metals that currently in use in parts manufacturing. ‘They have a moderate sinter temperature [316 Stainless Steel] and a low sinter temperature  [Aluminum ] as a starting point,’ Bill clarifies. ‘And these metals cover a large range in commercial applications and are available in the fine mesh size we need to insure a high quality 3D printed part.’

To create Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments, these metal powders are mixed with PLA or ABS in powder form and turned into 3D printable filament for any 3D printer. After printing, however, you will need to perform a couple of steps to remove what Bill and his associates call the ‘Green Part’: the soft plastics. 'The plastic is removed from the printed part via a process step called "Debinding". Depending upon the thermoplastic resin used, the plastic can be removed by solvent [water for PLA or an organic solvent like Acetone for ABS] or by thermal evaporation.  What remains is a soft, low density  metal part, called a "Brown Part",’ Bill explains.

Bill Kovacs, mastermind behind Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments

This brown metal component will need to be subsequently sintered to become solid metal. While industrial-grade 3D printers rely on a laser to do so, a furnace will do just as well. ‘This closes the metal pores,  to near full density and hardness. Depending on the sensitivity of the metal to oxygen, the furnace will be a controlled atmosphere furnace or a vacuum furnace,’ Bill explains. ‘Standard post finishing operations as used in Subtractive Manufacturing of Metal Parts can then be done.’ The 3D printed components are expected to shrink by about 20% during this process.

While this requires an additional investment in a furnace, it will nonetheless be much cheaper than buying a metal printer in the long wrong. While Bill and company are already planning to release a crowdfunded tabletop furnace after this Kickstarter is completed, you will have to look for alternatives before that time. Do not use a kitchen oven! A huge mess will be guaranteed, but successful sintering is not.

Will the parts 3D printed with Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments be as useful and strong as a regular metal printed component? Bill is the first to say no, it isn’t. It’s an ongoing process to develop a whole new manufacturing process and that requires innovation and educational failure in equal measure. ‘Only if you invest, print, debind, sinter and overcome the challenges and then report back on your experience so others can benefit and carry the ball a bit further. […] A few brave pathfinders will create the products and the worldwide additive manufacturing revolution will overcome those challenges,’ Bill argues.

Despite those shortcomings, the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments definitely offer a whole new range of metal prototyping options that can – in the long run – change a lot about metal manufacturing. If you are willing to take the plunge, be sure to back this interesting Kickstarter campaign. A pledge of $50 is enough to get your hands on one lbs. of 3.0 or 1.75 mm Sinterhard Metal Filled Thermoplastic Filament, in either PLA or ABS, filled with either 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum. Should the project raise $15,000 in pledges by the 6th of May, a new chapter in metal 3D printing can begin. 


Posted in 3D Printing Materials


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Lasse wrote at 7/1/2016 12:56:15 PM:

The projekt seems to be dead, no updates since jan.

Ken W. wrote at 4/17/2015 6:16:12 PM:

Even with shrinkage....you could print base design, and then mill/drill holes in secondary operation....still could be very useful!

Bob wrote at 4/10/2015 12:16:30 PM:

If you are genuinely interested in the project, and intelligent enough to really understand the concept, process and potential then this video is very interesting and informative and not at all boring!

Shrinkmaster wrote at 4/10/2015 10:09:43 AM:

20% Shrinkage? How would you even design a part that has even a very course dimensional tolerance with that? Is that even remotely possible to do with parts that do not have 100% infill? Are they providing a software that can analyze the geometry of a part you want and adapt it to the size it needs to be printed in, so you get at least close to what you originally had in mind after sintering? This technology can probably work for some decor or jewellry where absolute dimensions are not that important, but for any engineer that needs a stronger than plastic functional part prototype, this does not really seem to be useful at all. Or do i miss something here?

manko wrote at 4/9/2015 11:38:16 PM:

Good idea, video really sucks. The project creator needs someone to make a decent presentation video for kickstarter. Most people will have no idea what this is or get bored after 1 min of the video.

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