3-D printing with metals achieved

Jun 21, 2015

by Science Daily

A team of researchers from the University of Twente has found a way to 3D print structures of copper and gold, by stacking microscopically small metal droplets. These droplets are made by melting a thin metal film using a pulsed laser. Their work is published on Advanced Materials.

3D printing is a rapidly advancing field, that is sometimes referred to as the ‘new cornerstone of the manufacturing industry’. However, at present, 3D printing is mostly limited to plastics. If metals could be used for 3D printing as well, this would open a wide new range of possibilities. Metals conduct electricity and heat very well, and they’re very robust. Therefore, 3D printing in metals would allow manufacturing of entirely new devices and components, such as small cooling elements or connections between stacked chips in smartphones.

However, metals melt at a high temperature. This makes controlled deposition of metal droplets highly challenging. Thermally robust nozzles are required to process liquid metals, but these are hardly available. For small structures in particular (from 100 nanometres to 10 micrometres) no good solutions for this problem existed yet.


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14 comments on “3-D printing with metals achieved

  • @OP – 3-D printing with metals achieved
    A team of researchers from the University of Twente has found a way to 3D print structures of copper and gold, by stacking microscopically small metal droplets. These droplets are made by melting a thin metal film using a pulsed laser.

    This technique of melting a thin metal film working with copper and gold is innovative, but the title is misleading.
    NASA was 3D printing high-tech components using nickel-chromium alloy powder last year.

    http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/3d-printed-rocket-injector.html
    The largest 3-D printed rocket engine component NASA ever has tested blazed to life Thursday, Aug. 22 during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust.

    This test is a milestone for one of many important advances the agency is making to reduce the cost of space hardware. Innovations like additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, foster new and more cost-effective capabilities in the U.S. space industry.

    The component tested during the engine firing, an injector, delivers propellants to power an engine and provides the thrust necessary to send rockets to space. During the injector test, liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen passed through the component into a combustion chamber and produced 10 times more thrust than any injector previously fabricated using 3-D printing.

    “This successful test of a 3-D printed rocket injector brings NASA significantly closer to proving this innovative technology can be used to reduce the cost of flight hardware,” said Chris Singer, the director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala.

    The component was manufactured using selective laser melting. This method built up layers of nickel-chromium alloy powder to make the complex, subscale injector with its 28 elements for channeling and mixing propellants. The part was similar in size to injectors that power small rocket engines. It was similar in design to injectors for large engines, such as the RS-25 engine that will power NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for deep space human missions to an asteroid and Mars.

    “This entire effort helped us learn what it takes to build larger 3-D parts — from design, to manufacturing, to testing,” said Greg Barnett, the lead engineer for the project. “This technology can be applied to any of SLS’s engines, or to rocket components being built by private industry.”

    One of the keys to reducing the cost of rocket parts is minimizing the number of components. This injector had only two parts, whereas a similar injector tested earlier had 115 parts. Fewer parts require less assembly effort, which means complex parts made with 3-D printing have the potential for significant cost savings.



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  • We’ve just had a medical case in Australia of a patient who was born with out one jaw joint. They used 3D titanium printing to build the perfect joint, and secured it in a 5 hour operation. Interesting story at this link.

    Surgeons have successfully implanted a titanium 3D-printed prosthetic jaw in a Melbourne man in an Australian-first operation.

    Dr Dimitroulis said that while there had been a handful of 3D-printed jaw operations worldwide, he was not aware of any that incorporated a titanium part and a 3D-printed plastic jaw joint.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-20/melbourne-man-receives-titanium-3d-printed-prosthetic-jaw/6536788



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  • Doug
    Jun 22, 2015 at 6:55 am

    It looks like the plastic part(s) was/were 3D printed, but not the titanium

    I think they were referring to the plastic parts of the joints. The title suggests that the titanium was also 3D printed, but the body text does not seem so clear. On the the diagram the titanium joint looks a bit boxy for a custom 3D print!

    @link – Surgeons have successfully implanted a titanium 3D-printed prosthetic jaw in a Melbourne man in an Australian-first operation.

    Dr Dimitroulis said that while there had been a handful of 3D-printed jaw operations worldwide, he was not aware of any that incorporated a titanium part and a 3D-printed plastic jaw joint.

    “In terms of joint replacement specifically, what we call the TMJ – the temporomandibular joint – we suspect that this may be the first 3D-printed jaw joint in the world,” he said.



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  • David R Allen
    Jun 22, 2015 at 8:15 am

    The news broadcasts in Australia reported a technique where lasers were used with titanium powder to build up the titanium part of the prosthesis.

    That sounds like the sintered metal process; – similar to the NASA technique for printing rocket engine injectors.



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  • Yes, they’ve been doing titanium for some time now also, any metal powdered can be laser sintered. Elon Musk is printing his rocket engines in a metal alloy also. What appears to be new is the extreme high resolution. The advantage of the laser sintering method is the process self supports the structure this method it seems to me will result in needed support structures for overhangs as many of the plastic printers currently do. Of course it is possible to use another material for the support structure as long as it isn’t melted by the droplets of molten metal. Looks very promising though.



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  • Yes it is, on a bed a thin layer of metal powder is squeegied onto the bed then the laser sinters that, another layer is squeegied over that as the bed drops a fraction of a millimeter, and so forth until the object is made. You need to design a drain hole in the part or you waste a lot of powered titanium (or other metal being used). They dig the part out then blast it with compressed air so the power remaining can be re-used. There is another method where fine powder is sprayed onto the surface in a high temperature welding flame and molten into weld pool that is draw up into space. There are others as well.



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  • 3D printing will be very important for spacecraft. It is like taking an unlimited supply of spare parts with you. Without it, if something breaks you are likely hosed.



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  • Roedy
    Jun 22, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    3D printing will be very important for spacecraft. It is like taking an unlimited supply of spare parts with you. Without it, if something breaks you are likely hosed.

    There are already printing plastic tools on the ISS.

    http://www.nasa.gov/content/international-space-station-s-3-d-printer
    The International Space Station’s 3-D printer has manufactured the first 3-D printed object in space, paving the way to future long-term space expeditions. The object, a printhead faceplate, is engraved with names of the organizations that collaborated on this space station technology demonstration: NASA and Made In Space, Inc., the space manufacturing company that worked with NASA to design, build and test the 3-D printer.

    This image of the printer, with the Microgravity Science Glovebox Engineering Unit in the background, was taken in April 2014 during flight certification and acceptance testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, prior to its launch to the station aboard a SpaceX commercial resupply mission. The first objects built in space will be returned to Earth in 2015 for detailed analysis and comparison to the identical ground control samples made on the flight printer prior to launch. The goal of this analysis is to verify that the 3-D printing process works the same in microgravity as it does on Earth.

    The printer works by extruding heated plastic, which then builds layer upon layer to create three-dimensional objects. Testing this on the station is the first step toward creating a working “machine shop” in space. This capability may decrease cost and risk on the station, which will be critical when space explorers venture far from Earth and will create an on-demand supply chain for needed tools and parts.



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  • Hopefully they will move on from printing plastic and metal body parts!

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/big-idea/organ-regeneration-text
    The Big Idea: Organ Regeneration

    A new kind of solution is incubating in medical labs: “bioartificial” organs grown from the patient’s own cells. Thirty people have received lab-grown bladders already, and other engineered organs are in the pipeline.

    The bladder technique was developed by Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Researchers take healthy cells from a patient’s diseased bladder, cause them to multiply profusely in petri dishes, then apply them to a balloon-shaped scaffold made partly of collagen, the protein found in cartilage. Muscle cells go on the outside, urothelial cells (which line the urinary tract) on the inside. “It’s like baking a layer cake,” says Atala. “You’re layering the cells one layer at a time, spreading these toppings.” The bladder-to-be is then incubated at body temperature until the cells form functioning tissue. The whole process takes six to eight weeks.

    Solid organs with lots of blood vessels, such as kidneys or livers, are harder to grow than hollow ones like bladders. But Atala’s group—which is working on 22 organs and tissues, including ears—recently made a functioning piece of human liver. One tool they use is similar to an ink-jet printer; it “prints” different types of cells and the organ scaffold one layer at a time.

    Other labs are also racing to make bioartificial organs. A jawbone has sprouted at Columbia University and a lung at Yale.



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  • Stafford Gordon
    Jun 22, 2015 at 8:51 am

    Breath-taking technology; it’s a great time to be alive.

    I might even get my arthritic knee fixed.

    It could happen! There are lots of medical applications for 3D printing.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-33266087

    A 3D printer is to be used in ground-breaking surgery on a two-year-old girl.

    Tessa Evans was born with an extremely rare medical condition that means she has no nose or sense of smell.

    The surgery will involve a mould being inserted into Tessa’s face to stretch her skin, and slowly build the cosmetic implant.



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