Printing with plastic and even resin is getting fairly common. Metal printing, though, is still in the realm of the exotic. A company called Iro3D is aiming to change that with a steel printer that you can buy in beta for about $5000. That seems steep when you can get plastic printers for under $200, but it is sheer bargain basement for something that can print in real metal.
Of course, there’s a catch. The printer doesn’t create a solid metal object right away. What it does is prepares a crucible using sand and metal powder. You then place the crucible in a kiln and what comes out is the final product. You can see a video review of their prototype machine, below from [3D Printing Nerd]. The company’s promotional video that shows a part coming out of the kiln is also below.
In some ways, the printer is not as complex as a conventional plastic printer. There are no hot ends, fans, or heated beds to worry about. The head picks up a container of material and uses an auger to deposit it. There are two granularities of metal powder — one fine for visible surfaces and another for interior fill. There are similarly two containers of sand. The sand is like support material, and holds the object until it solidifies.
According to Iro3D’s website, the powders cost about $5 a pound and the machine can do 0.3mm layers. The “pourer” — we assume that’s the analog to a hot end — is 1mm in diameter. There is one catch if you want to buy one. They are only selling them in the Seattle area for now.
Looking at the machine it doesn’t look like it would be terribly hard to replicate with pretty standard 3D printing gear, especially if you already have an auger set up for paste extrusion. We’re sure the devil is in the details, but we are betting if this catches on we will see some homebrew attempts.
We’ve lamented about reasonable metal printers before. The only problem with this one is that if you have to have the kiln anyway, it might be just as easy to do lost PLA casting.
25 thoughts on “Iro3d 3D Prints In Powdered Metal”
An other “desktop” “metal” 3d printer :
We’re living in the future. Future most can’t afford. ;-)
Huh, MarkForge’s metal printing doesn’t sound too far beyond the abilities of most FDM printers. Sapphire nozzle, high force extruder, a mostly metal powder filament, de-binding station, and a sintering oven should do it.
FDM printers were invented when, back in the 80s or was it the late 70s? They were 5-digit purchases that only large corps and big universities could afford. Now I have one sitting on my desk at home that I built from a design that was freely shared on the internet. Others are buying theirs’ pre-assembled for as little as $100.
Now there is this thing for $5,000. That’s not pocket change but I know plenty of non-millionaires with toys such as 4-wheelers and recreational motorcycles that cost far more than that. But yet.. this is still the early days! After reading about how this process works.. I have no doubt there will be less expensive versions. Will it be common? Well.. I don’t know. A kiln is still a hefty requirement! Do you really think society needs cheaper kilns though? Think of the house fires!
Nice work guys, I hope the project meets its goal.
This reminds me if a Sand Mandala for some reason:
Thanks Hack. But it’s not on Kickstarter. – it’s in production already.
Looks like a home-brew version of desktop metal to me.
They want a lot more than 5K for theirs and use an oven also. Much higher grade materials and oven and what not, but still, this is something I could have at home, which is pretty sweet!
Actually iro3d is very different from Desktop Metal. Besides being a lower cost printer, iro3d has no shrinkage. The powders and the kiln for iro3d are also much cheaper.
BTW, the printer has been released and now you can buy it even if you don’t live in Seattle. See iro3d website for details.
It’d be cool to see someone build a whole system: Sheet metal (foil if you can get it, but you’re limited to soft metals or stainless off the shelf) shredder to powder mill (ball or attrition) to printer to final product.
I wonder if the prints would be strong enough for pistol barrels? Would have to do a finish cut on the rifling to make it smooth.
For a number of shots at least, since pistol rounds are lower pressure, but not nearly the level of a bored barrel. This metal is more like metal injection molding. MIM parts have bit of a bad name in firearms due to parts breakage.
235 MPa / +34k psi for 9mm isn’t exactly low pressure. You’re approaching the yield pressure of structural steel.
Why even think about something like this? Getting a barrel is easy and cheap, making a barrel from stock material is easy and cheap (weak lathe is enough), just buying a standard pipe and perhaps drilling/reaming the hole to the right dimensions is trivial.
Getting a metal 3D printer for making something seems like a very bad idea to me. For much less one could make a professional quality rifling machine transforming quality steel into reliable barrels.
The metal would be strong enough, if you choose the right metal. The parts are 100% dense – there is no sintering. The process is called SPD. It is described in “Selective Powder Deposition in a nutshell” YouTube video.
Miniature robotic factory. :-)
Looking at the video the principle seems very simple.
Yes, it is simple. That’s why it is so cheap.
Any details on dimensional accuracy?
Or how much it shrinks and when it does so, does it do so uniformly?
It doesn’t shrink because there is no sintering. The part is 100% dense by itself. See “Selective Powder Deposition in a nutshell” YouTube video for the detailed explanation.
Vertical resolution, aka layer thickness: 0.3mm
Horizontal resolution: 0.05mm
Hey! Thanks for picking this up! It was really cool to see in person, and I really hope more people get a chance to see this.
Hey Joel, the new version is much better than that old one. You are welcome to stop by and see it anytime. And anyone else who lives in the area is welcome too.
So is the refractory or green sand mold material being printed as a scaffold for the metal material to reduce the shrinkage from the metal powder and part deformation when binding agent either turns into carbon, off gases or fuses with the metal if not a flux?
I wonder if there is a way to have an adhesive that can enhance the performance characteristics and quality of the finished product, e.g. iron and carbon to create higher carbon steel countering deformation of phase changes and bonding.
Seems you’d want the smallest feasible metal powder particle size to afford the least amount of shrinkage and thinnest application of binder with a method to have a uniform content/blend mixture prior to printing. I wonder what the curves to determine the optimal mixtures look like since smaller particle size without consideration for adhesive volume would create extra adhesive issues.
Interesting… I assume the metal 3D printing methods would be more like the powder 3D printer methods. This looks different and novel to me.
No one of this cheap iron printers show trustable test on printed parts materials specifications. UTS, Young’s modulus, TS and so on.
Than is completely useless on professional prototyping environment.
Maybe is good for some jewel maker and other gadget maker, but real revolution will be when you be able to 3D print a steel meccanics part on a desktop printer.
Sometimes metal parts are not used for their strength but for the other properties of metal – electrical and thermal conductivity. You could print up a really elaborate heatsink with this technique, essentially making something that will work just as well as a part coming from a multi-hundred-thousand dollar machine.
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