Metal 3D Printing with Your Printer

Over in Italy, [Robotfactory] has a new setup called CopperFace that they claim allows you to essentially electroplate 3D printed objects with a metal coating using copper, nickel, silver, or gold.

We’ve talked about electroplating on plastic before, but that technique required mixing graphite and acetone. The CopperFace kit uses a conductive graphite spray and claims it deposits about 1 micron of plating on the object every two minutes.

We couldn’t help but wonder if the graphite spray is just the normal stuff used for lubricant. While the CopperFace’s electroplating tech seems pretty standard (copper sulfate and copper/phosphorus electrodes), we also wondered if some of the simpler copper acetate process we’ve covered before might be workable.

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3D Printing With Metal… At Home!

[Bam] from the LulzBot forums  has successfully printed metal using his 3D printer and a Budaschnozzle 1.1 hot end. Well, solder to be specific — but it’s still pretty awesome!

He’s making use of 3mm solder purchased from McMaster (76805a61), which has a blend of 95.8% tin, 4% copper and 0.2% silver. It took quite a few tries to get it extruding properly, and even now it seems to only be able to print about 15mm before jamming up — a more specific hot end with a larger thermal mass might help. He plans on trying a thinner filament (1.75mm) as it might help to keep it at the proper extrusion temperature, which in this case is around 235C.

During our research we found another user from the RepRap blog who has also been experimenting with printing low-melt point alloys — and he’s even successfully created an Arduino compatible Sanguino board using the printer!

If you want to try this yourself, you’ll need a nozzle you don’t care about, bored out to about 1mm — any smaller and it won’t extrude at all. Be warned though, the solder will corrode brass and aluminum, and [Bam] notes that after going through 1lb of solder, the nozzle was closer to 2mm in diameter when he was done! Oh and for the love of hacking — use ventilation!

Stick around after the break to watch a video on a professional version of this system — which is essentially a repurposed welding robot, using electron beam direct manufacturing. These technologies can’t make nicely finished parts, but they excel when considering they can make near net-weight parts, requiring only a small amount of machining to finish.

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