Printable Carbide Opens Up Interesting Possibilities

Sandvik, a large company headquartered in Sweden, has apparently been producing cemented carbide for a long time — according to them, since 1932. The material is known for being highly wear-resistant. Now the company says they have a process to 3D print the material. You can see a video about the new material, below.

If you haven’t encountered this material, it is essentially fine carbide particles bound in metal. You’ll find the material widely used in cutting tools. The slogan “Freedom of Design has Never Been Harder” is both clever and confusing, but we took their point.

The process is more or less like other metal binder technology. A powder of tungsten carbide and cobalt mixed with glue creates a green body which you still need to fire to get to the finished part.

What kind of things can you make? Here’s a quote from one of Sandvik’s engineers:

For instance, in wire drawing, productivity is usually limited by how fast the wire can be drawn with maintained quality, which in turn depends on the temperature in the wire drawing die. People have been trying to solve this problem for decades, but it’s been extremely difficult. A 3D printed, cooled wire nib is the answer to this riddle. It took a mere four days to produce, from the first basic sketch to the fully sintered product – thanks to our materials and proprietary process.

Don’t plan on loading up your Ender 3 with cemented carbide filament. This is, after all, a metal material. However, 3D printing can offer geometries that would be difficult to obtain with traditional methods. So even if you have to turn to a professional 3D printing shop, it is good to know you can create in this ultra-hard material.

Printing in metal has a different set of issues than using plastics. If you really want your current printer to do metal, it can, but you’ll have to cheat a bit. Or try electroplating.

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3D Printing Metal In Mid Air

Published only 3 days before our article on how it is high time for direct metal 3D printers, the folks at Harvard have mastered 3D metal printing in midair with no support (as well as time travel apparently). Because it hardens so quickly, support isn’t necessary, and curves, sharp angles, and sophisticated shapes are possible.

The material is silver nanoparticles extruded out of a nozzle, and shortly after leaving it is blasted with a carefully programmed laser that solidifies the material. The trick is that the laser can’t focus on the tip of the nozzle or else heat transfer would solidify the ink inside the nozzle and clog it. In the video you can see the flash from the laser following slightly behind. The extrusion diameter is thinner than a hair, so don’t expect to be building large structures with this yet.

If you want big metal 3D printing, you should probably stick to the welders attached to robotic arms.

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3D Printing Circuits Gets Rid Of The Box Altogether

Many think that the next big step in 3D printing is when we’ll be able to print in metal, well, at an affordable rate. But what about printing in metal and plastic at the same time?

The thing is, most electronics are typically two-dimensional. Layers upon layers of relatively flat PCBs make up the brains of every bit of technology we know and love. The funny thing is, we live in a three-dimensional world, and we like to shove these flat circuits into three-dimensional boxes. Well, what if we didn’t have to? What if the circuit could be embedded directly into whatever shape we want? It’d be pretty awesome — minus the whole servicing aspect of the product…

Anyway we’ve seen some great hacks over the years attempting this, like adding a copper wire strand into your 3D print, embedding components into your print by pausing the job, or even going old school and using the point-to-point Manhattan style circuit construction to add some electronic features to your part. But what if your printer could do it for you?

That’s exactly what Optomec is attempting with the Voxel8 3D printing electronics platform. It is your standard run of the mill FDM style 3D printer, but it has a 2nd extruder that is capable of squeezing out liquid silver ink that dries at room temperature. Just take a look at this quadrotor they were able to make.

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