Nov 2, 2018 | By Thomas

Affordable metal 3D printing may be here sooner than we thought, thanks to a new Seattle-based company by the name of iro3d. Announced earlier this year, the American startup has gone public with a beta version of their metal 3D printer priced at $5000. Although that may sound like a lot when plenty of desktop plastic printers are available on the market for under $500 nowadays, a retail price of $5000 is still virtually unheard of in the realm of 3D printed metal.

Available for U.S. pre-oders from May 2018, the company reported in June that "production of the pre-ordered printers is on-schedule." It has shipped to four customers in recent months. A company in Hong Kong is currently testing the machine and has expressed an interest in becoming a reseller in Hong Kong and mainland China. The three other customers are one Canadian company, and two independent customers in the U.S..

Before you get your credit card out, however, it’s worth taking a closer look at the fine print. The iro3d metal 3D printer uses a process termed Selective Powder Deposition (SPD). While Iro3d’s new system is certainly capable of 3D printing good quality metal, specifically steel, the printer doesn’t produce a fully formed, solid object. Rather, it prepares a metal container, or crucible, out of sand and powdered metal. From there, the user places the container in a kiln. Only after an intensive firing process does a solid steel object get produced. iro3d writes: “For high-carbon steel the temperature is 1250°C, hold time is 3 hours. For copper-iron and copper-nickel the temperature is 1184°C, hold time is 2 hours.”

Putting these extra steps aside for a moment, it’s worth noting that Iro3d’s 3D printer is arguably simpler than a conventional plastic printer in some key ways. The system does away with fans, heat beds, and hot ends, for instance, instead relying on a head to pick up a container, and an auger to deposit it. Here, sand acts as the support material, holding the object in place until it solidifies. Two sand-based containers correspond to two different granularities of metal powder: a finer powder for surfaces visible on the outside of the print, and a rougher powder for interior fill.

So far, the company has tried high-carbon steel, copper-iron, and copper-nickel for iro3d printing, though they say "mild steel, copper-silver, copper-gold, silver-gold, gold-nickel, and silver-nickel should be possible too. Others metals, like aluminum, stainless, titanium, would require more research and a kiln with controlled atmosphere, like vacuum and argon."

Unlike other metal 3D printing process that use a kiln, there is no shrinkage in the SPD process. But there is about 2% shape distortion when baked in a stainless steel crucible, due to the horizontal thermal expansion of the crucible. But with ceramic crucibles, there is no shape distortion.

The volume of the iro3d metal 3D printer is approximately 300 x 300 x 100 mm. Minimum layer thickness measures up at 0.3mm, while the system’s “pourer” (or hot end equivalent) is 1mm in diameter. Approximate print time is listed at 24 hours.

If sales are strong, it’s probably safe to bet that the price of the 3D printer will drop as demand grows, and Iro3d will be keen to expand their market sooner versus later. The starting price of the 3D printer is $5,000, plus shipping. For now, iron and support powders for the system are about $5 a pound.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Mbc wrote at 11/5/2018 1:48:10 PM:

It appears that the printer would usually pour the powder directly into the crucible, the clear tray was only for demonstration. This is a pretty amazing way to create a casting and should be possible to hack onto a common 3d printer... It would be interesting to see thier patent portfolio.

Quinn Yao wrote at 11/2/2018 4:34:37 PM:

No binder of any kind and just straight powder? How does he transport the powder from the tray into the crucible?

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