A Breakthrough Technology for Low-Cost 3D printing in Metals

low-cost 3d printing in metals

Cost-Effective 3D printing in metals using Just a Desktop 3D Printer 

3D printing has started to change the face of many industries. Its applications in different sectors like manufacturing, designing, healthcare, agriculture, research, and development, automotive can be seen quite often.

Metal 3D printers are expensive. According to all3dp, prices for professional ones can vary between $50,000 and $1 million.

Moreover, the cost of the device itself often represents only a fraction of the entire cost. In some cases, the price of the metal 3d printer maybe just 40% of total expenses, with the other expenses being operation, and maintenance costs, material cost, and post-processing expenses.

But a new technological breakthrough is showing a promise to reduce the cost of 3D printing in metals considerably. A startup, TIWARI Scientific Instruments, located in Germany has come up with a clever technique to 3-D print ceramic and metal parts at a reduced cost. The startup is being supported by European Space Agency & hosted at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre Hessen & Baden-Württemberg in Germany. It specializes in instruments for thermal characterization of materials along with 3D printing of high-performance ceramics and metals.

The spur gears—in the image below—have been produced in stainless steel with a quality that meets the space standard using an off-the-shelf desktop 3-D printer.

Producing precision parts in such high-performance materials using the known techniques would be both expensive and time-consuming. But the startup can instead build them using standard techniques in 3D printing.

The Breakthrough Technology

The unique ‘Fused Filament Fabrication’ (FFF) print process uses thermoplastic filaments that are embedded with ceramic or metal particles from which the part is to be made. 

After the printing process is over, the part (called ‘green body’) – undergoes thermal treatment to get rid of the plastic. A pure metal or ceramic item is all that is left behind according to the ESA non-metallic materials and processes engineer, Ugo Lafont.

The process yields both ceramic & metal parts with a relative density of over 99% and produces high-quality parts with very good physical properties. This also opens up the doors to manufacturing parts for space applications in a cost-effective manner.

Tests that Confirm Quality

Destructive and non-destructive testing at the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of ESA’s ESTEC technical center in the Netherlands was performed on parts made using the FFF process in stainless steel and titanium metals, along with alumina and silicon carbide ceramics for assessing their added value and suitability for space.

ESA’s Technology Transfer and Patent Office have facilitated the collaboration between TIWARI and the ESA for testing and assessment of the 3D printed parts.

Optomechanical payload structure for satellite – Image Credit: TIWARI Scientific Instruments

The Inspiration behind the Development

According to Siddharth Tiwari, the founder of Tiwari Scientific Instruments, there has been a lot of interest in mixing-in materials with traditional print stock used in 3D printers. But their main focus has been on a thorough understanding of this process and investigating the kind of mechanical and thermal properties that could be achieved.

They intend to offer an affordable solution to market against the high prices usually associated with 3D printing.

Additional Capabilities of the Technology

Apart from providing a low-cost solution for 3D printing in metals and ceramics, it also offers the following added value:

  • Parts made using their process possess enhanced mechanical performance compared to those built conventionally – for instance, 100% elongation in stainless steel is achievable without breaking.
  • The Company offers one of the best price-to-performance ratios in the market. They have also launched an online estimation tool for customers to check for the cost of the custom made parts.

To Wrap Up

It’s the time for industry leaders and innovators from around the world to come together and collaborate to make more such innovations in 3D printing a reality. With the innovations focused on cost reduction and enhancement in the capability to use multiple materials in 3D printing, cost-effective & on-demand production of a wide variety of parts from any part of the world can be brought to reality.

3D Printing in Metals

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