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3-D Printer in shop

The LulzBot TAZ 5 3-D printer in my shop (in photo above) prints using a roll of filament which feeds into a heated nozzle. The nozzle moves back and forth and up and down to print objects such as the blue ball bearing race on the printer table. (When it was finished printing, the newly printed ball bearings were able to move inside the race). The “ink” the LulzBot uses to print can be any of numerous 3mm filament materials. PLA and ABS are the two most common materials. Both are thermoplastics, meaning they become soft and moldable when heated, and then become solid when cooled. There are numerous other filaments which can be used for 3-D printing including polycarbonate, nylon, wood-filled PLA, and metal-filled PLA,

In healthcare, there are other kinds of “ink”. For example, one newly developed material can be used by dentists to 3-D print teeth. Independent surgical centers will soon begin printing bone implants, including large pieces of the skull. As described in Health Attitude: Unraveling and Solving the Complexities of Healthcare, researchers are printing organ tissues using pluripotent stem cells.

The missing ingredient in 3-D printing has been steel. Until now. HP has just introduced its Metal Jet printers, which will ultimately be able to print airplane and car parts, healthcare devices, and much more.

3-D printing is great for creating prototypes, but has been slow and expensive to mass produce. The other limitation has been the lack of steel, which is required for many items which need industrial strength. HP aims to change all those limitations with its new large-cabinet $400,000 Metal Jet printer. Watch the short video to see it in action.

Wired quoted Tim Weber, HP’s head of 3-D metals, says 3-D printing will save manufacturing costs for certain product parts and enable companies to create new products faster. Companies will be able to create a prototype and then use the same design for mass production. Weber said, “A lot of parts take months to prototype. We can now do in days what it took months or years to do. It will increase the pace of innovation.”

The HP Metal Jet printers use a process called binder-jet printing. The printer spreads layers of metal powder and then sprays the printed object with a binding agent to solidify it. The initial pieces are then placed in a furnace which solidifies the powder. Wired described the process as being analogous to putting a tin of cookies in the oven. The result will be many new objects which are innovative, solid, smooth, and affordable.

Source: HP’s New 3-D Printers Build Items Not of Plastic but of Steel | WIRED