Oct 31, 2017 | By Tess

A research group from the Imperial College London in the UK has reportedly developed a new and low-cost process for metal 3D printing. The innovative technique, called Electrochemical Additive Manufacturing (ECAM) uses electroplating technology to build up metal objects in a cost-efficient manner.

The novel process was recently published about in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies under the title “A Low Cost Desktop Electrochemical Metal 3D Printer.” The AM system was developed by engineers Billy Wu, Xiaolong Chen, Xinhua Liu, Peter Childs, and Nigel Brandon.

The researchers say they were spurred on to develop the metal 3D printer largely due to the current high costs of metal 3D printing. While FDM and most polymer-based 3D printing technologies have a range of affordable systems, metal 3D printing has remained an expensive technology.

The high prices, dictated by material costs as well as expensive laser systems and the necessity of gases like Argon, mean that metal 3D printing has been restricted to high-end industrial uses in the medical, aerospace, and automotive industries, to name a few.

ECAM, the new technology developed by the Imperial College London team, could offer a more accessible metal 3D printing platform than the systems that currently exist.

Rather than use a laser to melt and sinter metal powders, ECAM employs an electroplating system, a process that is traditionally used in gold jewelry plating, to build up metal parts layer-by-layer.

Dr. Billy Wu explains the process further, saying: “Here, metal ions in a solution, for example, Cu2+ ions in copper sulfate, are reduced into their elemental components through the application of an external potential.”

“In our electrochemical 3D printer the ionic solution is loaded into a syringe and a meniscus is formed between a nozzle and conductive plate. A potential is then applied to deposit the metal and the print head is moved. This process is continued till a 3D object is created,” he continues.

In other words, the ECAM 3D printer creates metal parts using a metal ion solution as a material and a conductive substrate as a build surface. The nozzle deposits the metal ion solution in tiny drops onto the conductive substrate which results in the electrochemical reduction of the metal ions.

According to the research team, this novel method has a number of benefits. First and foremost, it is less costly than laser-based  and gas reliant AM systems. Second, the technology can be used to 3D print structures from a range of different materials and alloys “under ambient conditions without thermal damage.”

Third, the ECAM process can also be used as a subtractive manufacturing method through the “reversal of potential.” This means that the process can transform the printed metal back into a solution through electrochemical dissolution, which allows for metal materials to be recycled and reused.

And fourth, the researchers say that the ECAM 3D printing process can be adapted to incorporate multiple print heads, which would enable multi-material metal 3D printing. The one current drawback of the technology, however, is that it is quite slow.

While it is not exactly clear when or whether the technology will become commercially available, Wu says the metal 3D printing technology has “the potential to open up new design possibilities and be a distributive future manufacturing method.”



Posted in 3D Printer



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The Power wrote at 11/2/2017 6:28:29 PM:

Interesting but can only print in elemental metals, no alloys. Not sure how useful this will be.

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