If you’ve seen both a fused filament fabrication (FFF) printer and a wire welder, you may have noticed that they work on a similar basic principle. Feedstock is supplied in filament form — aka wire — and melted to deposit on the work piece in order to build up either welds in the case of the welder, or 3D objects in the case of the printer. Of course, there are a number of difficulties that prevent you from simply substituting metal wire for your thermoplastic filament. But, it turns out these difficulties can be overcome with some serious effort. [Dominik Meffert] has done exactly this with his wire 3D printer project.
For his filament, [Dominik] chose standard welding wire, and has also experimented with stainless steel and flux-cored wires. Initially, he used a normal toothed gear as the mechanism in the stepper-driven cold end of his Bowden-tube extrusion mechanism, but found a standard wire feeder wheel from a welder worked better. This pinch-drive feeds the wire through a Bowden tube to the hot end.
In thermoplastic 3D printers, the material is melted in a chamber inside the hotend, then extruded through a nozzle to be deposited. Instead of trying to duplicate this arrangement for the metal wire, [Dominik] used a modified microwave oven transformer (MOT) to generate the low-voltage/high-amperage required to heat the wire restively. The heating is controlled through a phase-fired rectifier power controller that modulates the power on the input of the transformer. Conveniently, this controller is connected to the cooling fan output of the 3D printer board, allowing any standard slicer software to generate g-code for the metal printer.
To allow the wire to heat and melt, there must be a complete circuit from the transformer secondary. A standard welding nozzle matching the wire diameter is used as the electrode on the hot end, while a metal build plate serves as the other electrode. As you can imagine, getting the build plate — and the first layer — right is quite tricky, even more so than with plastic printers. In this case, added complications involve the fact that the printed object must maintain good electrical continuity with the plate, must not end up solidly welded down, and the fact that the 1450 °C molten steel tends to warp the plate.
Considering all the issues that have to be solved to make this all work, we are very impressed with [Dominik’s] progress so far! Similar issues were solved years ago for the case of thermoplastic printers by a group of highly-motivated experimenters, and it’s great to see a similar thing starting to happen with metal printing, especially using simple, readily-available materials.
This isn’t the only approach to DIY metal printing, though. We saw one that used electron beam melting (EBM) not too long ago.
Thanks to [Krzysztof] for the tip!