Feb 26, 2016 | By Alec

If there’s one application that is going to carry commercial 3D printing into the realm of actual manufacturing in the near future, it’s going to be metal 3D printing. It’s ability to 3D print very high quality parts in extremely complex geometries is already leading to new manufacturing possibilities. A new German metal 3D printing technology has just been unveiled that could give a huge boost to that manufacturing process. Called 3D screen printing, it has been developed by the Dresden-based Fraunhofer IFAM institute, and is capable of mass producing small metallic objects and achieving details that other technologies, such as SLM or binder jetting powder machines, cannot even achieve.

This intriguing process has been developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for manufacturing Technology and Advanced materials lab Dresden in collaboration with Bauer Technologies, and could just be what the metal 3D printing sector needs to hit the mainstream. It has been patented way back in 1993, and has been used on a small scale within R&D labs since 2008. Those efforts are now leading to a groundbreaking machine that could hit the market in the near future. As its developers say in a presentation, it “which allows the mass production of small metallic high precision parts. This clearly distinguishes the 3D screen printing from the classic rapid prototyping technique.”

It comes with several significant advantages, which all enable the production of small, precise and cheap metal parts, even with closed structures, at a very high pace. In fact, different parts can easily be manufactured simultaneously, down to a micrometer scale. In a production line setting, it could be perfect for mass production. Its developers envision screen 3D printing to be used for the development of microsystems, and in sectors such as energy and heat management, mechanical engineering, biotechnology, electronics, and of course automotive and aerospace industries. Fuel cell components, catalyst carriers, micromechanics, electrodes, implants, jewelry and other small light weight constructions can easily be manufactured with the technology.

It is quite a complex technology, and essentially consists of a paste (a powder or binder) that is extruded out of very precise opening between two sheets. This can be stacked into layers just as any 3D printed material, and is sintered afterwards. But the big difference is that this screen movement allows for very precise structures, down to a possible structure size of 60 µm, and doesn’t require support structures. Wall thickness can easily go down to the 50 micron range, making this a very potent technology indeed.

More importantly, it can be applied to a very wide range of materials, from metals, ceramics, to glass and even multimaterials and different materials layered into graded structures. These materials can be atomized (and thus spherical) and even dendritical (uneven) and yet can be perfectly applied. Among the materials already successfully tested, you can find stainless steel, copper, hard metals like titanium, and even light PM alloys and sintered materials. Combined with the thin wall production capacity, objects like very thin heat channels are definitely possible. One example brought forth by the developers were some bipolar plates developed in collaboration with the Center of Fuel Cell Technology in Duisburg “These plates have significant advantages compared to such produced with conventional manufacturing processes,” they say.

What’s more, they are also looking at a variation on screen 3D printing called 3D stencil printing, in which thinner stencils replace the screen. Most importantly, this removes the Moiré effect from the finished parts - a visual trick that sets of lines or dots create. Much quicker than screen printing, it produces a layer thickness in the range 300 – 500 µm and 2-3 mmm bridging. It could also enable higher layers and larger bridging options, expanding the range of production possibilities.

In short, a big innovation is coming out of Dresden. The current iteration of their screen 3D printer comes with two printing tables and a 300 mm x 300 mm printing area, as well as a closed chamber, climate control and more. It should currently be capable of producing up to 1.500.000 parts per year, but they are envisioning a commercial ‘production line’ that could take that number up to 7 million. Could this be the future of metal manufacturing?

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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