Metal 3D Printing: Insta-Layers

Selective Metal Sintering is cool but slow. Fear not, a technology that was initially developed to smooth and pattern laser beams is here to save the day, according to a new paper by Lawrence Livermore researchers.

In a paper titled “Diode-based additive manufacturing of metals using an optically-addressable light valve,” the researchers lay out a procedure for using an array of high-powered laser diodes among other things to print a whole layer of metal from powdered metal at one time. No more forward and backward, left and right. Just one bright flash and you’re done. Naturally, the technology is still in its infancy, but huge 3D printed metallic parts are something we’ve always hoped for.

According to [Matthews], the first author of the paper, the mojo of the process comes from a customized laser modulator: the Optically Addressable Light Valve which functions similarly to liquid crystal-based projectors but can handle the high energies associated with powerful lasers. There’s more information straight from the paper’s authors in this interview.

While it’s true that now is the time for direct metal 3D printing, it appears that for the time being the average hacker is stuck with alternative methods for printing metal. While it’s not the same, pewter casting with PLA might suffice.

Thanks to [Kevin] for sending this in!

19 thoughts on “Metal 3D Printing: Insta-Layers

    1. What about some kind of thermal spraying setup where you vaporize the metal and deposit it where you want? You may need to shoot through a mask for fine details.

    2. Printing conductive tracks on a flat surface by intense pulsed light has actually been around for a long time. Several manufacturers make the equipment but it’s a little north of your €500 price wishpoint. An example:

      It works by sintering a printed ink on the substrate. If you’ve ever popped a large photflash near a sheet of newsprint you will instantly grok the idea.

      Conceptually not even hard to DIY: you just need to deliver a kilojoule or more into a few square centimeters. An ordinary (but large) Xenon flashlamp does the trick for absorbers in the optical range. A Krypton lamp works better in the NIR.

      If high conductivity or solderability is not required then ordinary good-quality India ink works very well too. Not quite good enough for EMI shielding, but good enough to supply LEDs and other low-power parts. The good stuff is waterproof and stays flexible (doesn’t flake off or crack). I use Speedball Super Black for this, but others work too. Some “india-like” inks do not though.

    3. Should not be that hard. I imagine that you could just use some conductive ink to print a thin initial layer, and then electroplate copper onto that conductive ink to get you the 35µm of well conducting copper. Could probably even work to make your own vias if you drill the board first and manage to get the registration between drilling and printing right.
      The only thing that need some research is to find a conductive ink that is not too xpensive and easily printable (with a hacked off the shelf inkjet), does stick well to epoxy, and does not form a thermocouple or makes other harmful reactions (electromigration,…) once plated with the copper.

  1. Nice find HaD. The free .pdf download does not require any scripting enabled in your browser and no hand-over of personal information (other than your IP address, which is unavoidable, unless you take mitigating measures). The only obstacle is a Captcha – but again, the Captcha requires no scripting enabled in your browser (I tested in Firefox-Latest Stable with multiple scripting disable/block methods, both firewall and plug-ins).

    Please HaD, REWARD the posters of scientific/engineering papers open and freely without paywalls by simply stating “FREE DOWNLOAD” when you post the link!

    Remember much (if not most) of this type research is done using TAXPAYER MONEY – so you the TAXPAYER should have access to the results provided there is nothing that may compromise security or well-being of the general populace. (Disclaimer: I don’t know if the particular article mentioned in this HaD was full-or-in-part paid for by taxpayer money. The purpose of my post is to encourage HaD to acknowledge scientific/engineering papers that are made freely and openly available.)

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