We’ve already seen a couple of startups’ try to make affordable consumer level metal 3D printers, such as Vader Systems metal printer and the Mini Metal Maker from David Hartkop. Michigan Tech’s Sustainability and Accessibility Lab has been working on their metal 3D printer and they have just released a report called “Low-Cost Open-Source 3D Metal Printing”, found here.
Joshua Pearce, an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech, has been leading the team behind the open-source metal 3D printer. The delta-style printer uses a Melzi Microcontroller board in conjunction with a commercial gas-metal arc welder to lay down thin layers of steel to form a complex object. All up, the cost of the printer was $1,192.93 including $830 for the welder and all files have been made available online, so anyone can build one for themselves.
Currently the most complex object built by Pearce’s printer is a metal sprocket. According to the paper the sprocket was made from solid carbon steel ER70S-6, was watertight and functional, but the printer needs further optimization. Apparently, “the travel speed of the stage needs to be optimized as a function of the wire feed rate and voltage for commercially available thin welding wires.” The printer also lacks the ability to create support structures and bridges.
“Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it,” says Pearce. “Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it.”
Due to a number of safety implications, Pearce believes that the metal printer is better suited to garages, work shops or skilled individuals. This is because it requires more safety gear and fire protection equipment than the typical plastic 3D printer.
Pearce told the Michigan Tech News that the printer could be used to manufacture metal guns, but believes the benefits will far outweigh the negatives. “Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many.”
One day, Pearce believes the technology will allow us to create anything, “I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which ‘replicators’ can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to make almost anything.”
Open-source files are available here.