Printing In Metal with a MIG Welder

Whenever the question of metal 3D printers comes up, someone always chimes in that a MIG welder connected to a normal 3D printer would work great. A bit of research would tell this person that’s already been done, but some confirmation and replication is nice. A few students at TU Delft University strapped a welder to a normal, off-the-shelf 3D printer and made a few simple shapes.

This project builds on the work of [Joshua Pearce] et al. at Michigan Tech where an MIG welder and delta bot was used to lay down rather complex shapes on a metal plate substrate. The team at TU Delft used a cartesian bot – a Prusa i3 – for their replication because of the sheer mass of moving a metal build plate, firebricks, and welder around.

In the first few prints on their machine, the team was able to lay down enough metal to build a vertical wall. It’s not much, and to turn this into a finished part would require some machining, but these are only the beginning steps of what could become a legitimate way of creating metal parts. Video below.

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THP Entry: An Affordable Metal 3D Printer

metalFor years now, people have been trying to develop an affordable, RepRap-derived 3D printer that will create objects in metal. There has been a lot of work with crazy devices like high-powered lasers, and electron beams, but so far no one has yet developed a machine that can print metal objects easily, cheaply and safely. For The Hackaday Prize, [Sagar] is taking a different tack for his metal 3D printer: he’s extruding low temperature alloys just like a normal 3D printer would extrude plastic.

[Sagar]‘s printer is pretty much a carbon copy of one of the many ‘plastic-only’ 3D printers out there, the only change being in the extruder and hot end. As a material, he’s using an alloy of 95.8% tin, 4% copper, and 0.2% silver in a 3mm diameter spool. This alloy melts at 235° C, about the same temperature as the ABS plastic these printers normally use.

The only real problems with this build are the extruder and nozzle. [Sagar] is milling his own nozzle and hot end out of stainless steel; a challenging bit of machining, but still within the realm of a hobbyist. He has some doubts about the RepRap derived plastic geared extruder being able to handle metal, so he’s also looking at designing a new version and milling that out of stainless as well.

It’s an awesome project, and we hope we’ll be seeing some updates to the project shortly. While a 3D printer that produces objects out of a low temperature alloy won’t be building rocket engines any time soon, it could be a great way to fabricate some reasonably high-strength parts at home.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.