We keep seeing the amazing applications that 3D printers have. The machines are helping scientists perform experiments in the lab, doctors treat patients, and very soon they'll be helping astronauts build things in space. So far, 3D printing mainly uses different types of plastic filament to build objects, but scientists at Michigan Technological University have come up with a way to expand what can be accomplished with these machines.
The team, led by Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering, have created an open-source and low-cost 3D metal printer to take on bigger and stronger things. So far, the machine that lays down thin layers of steel has only made objects like sprockets, but the technology is evolving and you can help it to get better.
“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,” said Pearce. “Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it.”You can access the open-source project here.
The other major breakthrough with this machine is that it was cheap to make with materials, including a small commercial MIG welder and an open-source microcontroller, coming in at under $1,500. Commercial metal printers are out there, but they have a price tag of about half a million dollars -- not exactly within reach of your average maker.
But the benefits of an affordable metal printer go beyond just the maker community.
“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," said Pearce.
Of course, a metal printer requires more safety precautions than a plastic printer, so at-home use may still be farther off in the future.