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.