A Huge Leap for 3D Printing With Metal Printer

Updated at: 11/08/2013 7:04 AM
By: Networx

Photo: Ishikawa Ken/FlickrEver been in the middle of a home improvement project and realized you have the wrong hardware or need another box of screws? It means a traipse to the hardware store, and you have to remember what size you need, how many of it you require, and more. Of course, if you get back and realize you bought the wrong thing, then you have to go all the way back to the store, and suddenly, your project doesn't seem nearly as easy, or enjoyable, as it did before.

Now imagine having a 3D printer that works with molten metal to produce the part you want, when you want it.

We're not there yet, but we're really, really close. A new product uses aluminum to print three dimensional objects up to roughly 10 inches cubed, showing the potential for a technology that would allow you to print out hardware components as easily as you pop a few pages out of your desktop printer, though the components are a little more complex.

Right now, the Vader Printer, as it's known, is not exactly a desktop item. It's huge, heavy, and expensive, as pilot projects often are. As such, it's not really ideally suited to consumers who want the convenience of fabricting metal objects at home, but it's not inconceivable that such printers could make their way into hardware stores and other locales for custom printing projects -- a Los Angeles plumber, for instance, could fabricate plumbing components on demand. And, maybe someday, consumers will have their very own 3D printers at home to make whatever they want.

This system replaces existing three dimensional metal "printing" techniques, many of which involve the use of lasers to carve away at metal blocks, or the deposition of metal filings as opposed to liquid droplets. If it's successful, the Vader could become a leader in the field of 3D metal printing, paving the way for further refinements to create custom hardware and other components at a fraction of current costs, which is good news for everyone, including architects, scientists, electricians, and more.

One constraint in the way of modern design, for example, is that many homes have to be built within the limitations of existing technology, including the technologies available in the realm of fasteners, bolts, support bracing, and more. If architects could design custom components and have them printed, their options would expand much more, without passing on extremely high costs to their clients. That might create openings for radical and innovative buildings that change the architectural landscape.

There's also a high potential for using recycled metals like aluminum cans, making 3D metal printing both environmentally friendly and efficient.

Part of the mission of the company includes education and accessibility, with the goal of allowing anyone to program the printer for production of any object. This reflects a larger DIY aesthetic in the 3D fabrication movement, which has been consistently moving towards the creation of projects for the people, breaking down barriers so that anyone, anywhere, can participate in the creation of objects from the simple to the complex.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

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