Imperial College London unveil new metal printer technology
Regular readers of this blog will remember that we recently interviewed Dr Billy Wu of Imperial College London, to talk about some of the cutting-edge 3D printing research taking place there. Particularly notable was the new breed of metal printer that Dr Wu and his colleagues have developed. While additive manufacturing professionals and hobbyists alike have long dreamt of a workable desktop metal printer, but for the most part, such technology remains a long way off. Imperial’s new metal printer not only makes desktop printing with metal materials a viable option, but also offers a number of other unique innovations and improvements over existing technologies.
Imperial’s metal printer utilises a process similar to electroplating, where a current is passed through a chemical solution containing the chosen printing material. This allows a wide range of metals and alloys to be manipulated by the operator, allowing metallic structures to be both created and shaped, effectively synthesising additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques in a single, versatile technology.
This means that not only can quality metal parts be created on an as-needed basis, the material can also be effectively recycled afterwards. This will help to minimise the material costs that remain an ongoing challenge for any sort of metal printing. The potential for utilising this technology in the most challenging sectors and environments — such as construction, aerospace, Formula 1 or even space exploration — is enormous.
This project demonstrates what can be achieved when research into new 3D printing technology responds directly to the real-world challenges facing manufacturing professionals. We would expect this to prove a truly disruptive technology that enables a range of new industries to start exploring 3D printing, whether that’s for prototyping, production, or unique, one-off projects. While there will inevitably be a learning curve involved as it is folded into existing workflows, the results should prove more than worth it.