By Michael Molitch-hou
As exciting as low-cost plastic printing is to most people in the 3D printing community, 3D printed metal may always be more indicative of the progress of and ultimate applicability of 3D printing technology. With metal 3D printing, it’s possible to create highly-complex, critical components for every industry, from aerospace to medicine. Unfortunately, metal 3D printing systems still range in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in price. That may change in the not too distant future, as a few different projects endeavor to develop new methods for 3D printing metal at lower prices.
At the higher end of the low-cost metal 3D printing spectrum is MatterFab, which is working on sourcing more affordable components to bring laser-melted metal to market at “orders of magnitude cheaper” than other industrial metal 3D printers. At the other end is the open source metal 3D printer developed out of Michigan Tech. For just over $1k, the school’s researchers have created a working metal 3D printer that makes metal parts with an arc welder. A new company called Weld3D, based in Huntsville, Alabama, has made itself known that relies on similar technology to Michigan Tech, but tells us, “We are using an arc welder, but have notebooks full of ideas for other related processes.”
After about a year of development, Weld3D isn’t ready to release a product or let us know just how much their technology costs. They’re still in the R&D stages and looking for investors, but they’ve told us a little bit about their process and published a lot of examples of their results. Saying they’ve worked with a few metal allows, they explain, “It still has some minor tweaks, but overall we have been able to make complex parts and geometries in an evening (for most builds). We recently completed some mechanical property testing of our process and will release those results soon.” You can see what they’re capable of so far in the video below:
Weld3D is hoping to first adapt existing personal CNC machines to arc weld metal to bring it to market more quickly. They’re also “in talks with some suppliers about building custom machines for a complete plug and play system” and will let us know about the price of such products soon. Additionally, the company is seeking partners at the commercial and university level, as well as software partners.
After Weld3D is able to launch their initial products, they plan to push their metal printing research further, including other methods for 3D printing with metal. The process may require refinement, but it looks like they’re off to a nice start. They’ll have to keep their heads up for competition from Sigma Labs, however, which partnered with Michigan Tech to co-develop the school’s own low-cost arc welding printer.
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