Nov 4, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing metal parts in the comfort of your own home, on your easily accessible desktop and without having to take out a second mortgage on your house. It sounds completely unrealistic, but it could become a possibility in 2017. While most metal 3D printers in the world are room-filling industrial machines that literally cost as much as a house, startup Ability3D is working on a desktop alternative. Called the 888 3D printer, it combines welding and milling principles to 3D print accurate metal parts.

Not a lot is known about this mysterious 3D printer just yet, but Ability3D’s Ben Willard recently appeared at Maker Faire Orlando to show off their working prototype. As he revealed, this 3D printer is their attempt to make metal 3D printing affordable and suitable for desktop use, and they certainly seem to be delivering on those two fronts. Expected to cost less than $3,000 during a crowdfunding campaign in early 2017, it reaches the price range of most professional-grade FDM 3D printers, and is only slightly larger than most of those machines.

But you could rightly be skeptical about how that is achieved, as previous desktop metal 3D printing initiatives hardly delivered on many of their promises. In fact, using metal-based PLA filaments or lost-wax mold 3D printing are some of the only currently available desktop metal 3D printing options out there. But none of those options come close to the majesty of professional metal 3D printers, which are revolutionizing aerospace engines already. In fact, you could call true desktop metal 3D printing the Holy Grail of the desktop making hobby.

So how do they do it? Well, the 888 3D printer is essentially a welding machine – loaded with aluminum, steel or stainless steel wires. These are laid down in whatever shape you desire, and each layer is subsequently milled to remove imperfections and optimize part resolution. “The MIG welding wire itself isn’t very high resolution, but that’s okay because after every layer we do a slight trim with the little end mill to make every slice perfect. You add up a bunch of accurate slices, and the result is an accurate part,” Willard explained.

It’s a method that is more frequently used in factories around the world, and the 888 3D printer is essentially a scaled down version made suitable for home users. But as Willard revealed, the 888 also includes a regular extrusion print head for FDM 3D printing. The same machine also has the ability to do trimming work on wood and other 3D printed plastics, making it a potent all-purpose making tool.

The little square piece visible above might seem unimpressive but to Ability3D it is a perfect example of what is, and of what will become, possible. At the same time, the final results are strong enough for a wide range of projects. “Metal MIG welding wire is the key to our process. It's strong, durable, hard and is the perfect material for your 3D printing applications. Using our prototype machine as the test bed for our process, we have developed a way for anyone to be able to print real metal parts in their home or office,” they say. “Finally everyone has the ability to 3D print real metal parts themselves.”

While we’ll have to wait for the crowdfunding campaign to go live to see if this machine actually lives up to its promise, the 888 3D printer seems to have all the ingredients to make low-cost metal 3D printing a possibility. Keep an eye on the Ability3D website for more info.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Johnny wrote at 11/22/2016 9:26:14 AM:

Something like this for this price point will CHANGE the world

RAU wrote at 11/8/2016 9:08:09 PM:

I also would like to see more printed parts than only one metal block. I guess there is a reason why nothing is shown. How does it look if a layer overlaps the previous one? Is bridging possible at all? Can metall be melted onto thin walls? I don't think so...

3Drasle wrote at 11/6/2016 8:47:56 AM:

A blok of aluminum. I think it would be cheaper to buy an aluminum bar and cut it. Why not show us how it handles thin walls instead?

mick wrote at 11/4/2016 4:33:51 PM:

It's so great to see more and more women in engineering.

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