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.


[via LulzBot]

27 thoughts on “3D Printing With Metal… At Home!

  1. I also tried this a year ago. (you can find it somewhere in the Austrian RepRap forums) The problem with this is the high surface tension. The tin always creates small drops. I used 99% tin 3mm solder wire for this I think. Another problem is that most nozzles are made out of copper but tin sticks very well to copper. A design with an Aluminium nozzle is better for this purpose like the one from arcol.hu. Aluminum creates instantly an oxid-film on contact with oxygen so it is nearly impossible to solder. (you can improve this effect by eloxation of the nozzle) To get rid of the surface tension of tin an idea would be to print in oil.

    But great to see that others are also trying to make metal metal printing at home possible.

    1. There is a website that sells pla with high metal content. It prints easy, but then you have to kiln it and do one other step, but it makes home metal printing totally possible. If I remember the site I will come back and let you know. The startup kit is like $239 with everything except the kiln you need.

  2. Anodizing the nozzle would make it immune against the tin. You can do this by any local anodizing service. They usually anodize more parts but they also can do this only for you nozzle. The nozzle diameter gets smaller with anodization so use a 0.5mm nozzle or somewhat bigger if you want a thick oxid-film.

  3. I wonder if you could machine a suitable tip from graphite…

    Or how about borosilcate (pyrex) glass? It would be really easy to make nice conical tips by drawing pyrex tubing in the flame of a torch. Looking at some wiki entries it appears that the softening point for Pyrex is 1100 degrees greater than the melting point of eutectic (60:40) solder.

    1. i’ve had this idea kicking around for quite awhile about using induction for printing. like, you have a chunk of graphite inside of your pyrex nozzle(glass so you can see it, you could use ceramic just the same) and copper wire wrapped around for your coil, and you change the voltage you pump through the coil and use the inductive resistance formulas for tempor just a thermistor, whatever floats your boat) and you could theoretically print in steel or titanium, or plastics, all based on how hot you make your little graphite ring. i’m trying to make one, but… making your own nozzle is a pain in the a**, especially when your parents don’t support your endeavors. i just need a nozzle por it.

    1. For many reasons, I suppose. This could lead to further research that perfects the viability of home based metal printing. While at this point the metal is soft, give it an iteration or two and you may see more robust metals coming into play.

      I have yet to actually get a 3d printer, but even my wife likes the idea of getting one. Time to start saving up, I guess. :D

  4. A couple of tricks I might try later.
    1) Anodising of the tip using boric acid to form a hard oxide is a well known method and can avoid tip damage if done right.
    2) Using pyrolytic graphite lining (PG) inside the tip and connecting a power source across that may also work; PG is highly thermally conductive so this should work well.

  5. I guess I don’t really see any way conceivable that this is a good idea, but wouldn’t it make more sense to extrude a wax model for investment casting. It isn’t hard to do and you could use harder material. A lot of other advantages too.

  6. It seems to me, that printing with a casting wax, and then utilizing a lost wax casting technique would produce superior results with materials like aluminum Brass or solder.

    1. Printing with wax proved to be difficult, as it didn’t solidify easy. But, PLA can be used to cast metals in, I’ve heard it works quite well as the PLA melts away from the resident heat of the metal after it has set a bit.

  7. look at all those cold solder joints. still, invention is a series of forward and backward steps generally moving toward a goal. however small, this certainly advanced the knowledge base.

  8. Has anyone got a good link for the boric acid anodizing ?
    For some reason Google isn’t helping me this morn (lots of corporate links, etc)
    I’m thinking of a small engine aluminum piston experiment actually.

  9. What about using the metal as a heater, by passing current through it? The metal filament could be inserted in a conductive tip which would deliver some amps between the thin filament and the conductive substrate. Maybe this can be used to deposit a solder over the place where the tracks should be on a PCB, protecting the copper from the chemical etching.

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