Low Cost Metal 3D Printing By Electrochemistry

[Billy Wu] has been writing for a few years about electrochemical 3D printing systems that can handle metal. He’s recently produced a video that you can see below about the process. Usually, printing in metal means having a high-powered laser and great expense. [Wu’s] technique is an extension of electroplating.

Boiling down the gist of the process, the print head is a syringe full of electroplating solution. Instead of plating a large object, you essentially electroplate on tiny areas. The process is relatively slow and if you speed it up too much, the result will have undesirable properties. But there are some mind-bending options here. By using print heads with different electrolytes, you can print using different metals. For example, the video shows structures made of both copper and nickel. You can also reverse the current and remove metal instead of depositing it.

This looks like something you could pretty readily replicate in a garage. Electroplating is well-understood and the 3D motion parts could be a hacked 3D printer. Sure, the result is slow but, after all, slow is a relative term. You might not mind taking a few days to print a metal object compared to the cost and trouble of creating it in other ways. Of course, since this is copper, we also have visions of printing circuit board traces on a substrate. We imagine you’d have to coat the board with something to make it conductive and then remove that after all the copper was in place. When you build this, be sure to tell us about it.

We’ve seen electroplating pens before and that’s really similar to this idea. Of course, you can also make your 3D prints conductive and plate them which is probably faster but isn’t really fully metal.

Continue reading “Low Cost Metal 3D Printing By Electrochemistry”

Metal Plating Plastic Or Metal Parts

Like most of us, [Clem] wants to 3D print in metal. Metal 3D printers do exist, but they are generally way out of reach for most of us garage hackers. As an alternative, [Clem] uses a homebrew electroplating system to get prints with a metallic coating.

The setup is quite simple. Small glass jars to act as the plating tanks and the machine uses an Arduino controller along with a PCB to hold things like a relay to control the 24V used for electroplating. To keep everything tidy, [Clem] designed a 3D printed box that stores all the cables and chemicals when you aren’t using them. Since the parts might get hot, the plastic is PETG.

The trick is that parts need to be conductive in order to use electroplating — typically plastic isn’t conductive. [Clem] paints the plastic parts to grant them conductivity. Graphite paint didn’t give great results. However, an iron-based paint worked better but obscures detail on the print. In addition to galvanization (plating with zinc or steel) you can see copper plating of a nail at around the 12 minute mark, with a plastic plating demo a minute later. The machine can even plate gold using an expensive gold-bearing electrolyte. In the video comments, someone also mentioned that it would be interesting to try plating conductive filament without using the paint. [Clem] tried to remove rust from a big part, but the power supply wasn’t up to the task.

Copper plating is often used as a step to make a part conductive so you can then plate with another metal. In addition to copper sulfate, you can use copper acetate. Sometimes, getting metal into fine details can be tough and it is easier to use a pen to plate those areas directly.

Continue reading “Metal Plating Plastic Or Metal Parts”

A New Method For Growing Watch Springs

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) recently developed a new technique for growing watch springs to tiny specifications. As it turns out, the creation of watch springs is ripe with opportunity for new materials research.

The technique involves using photo-etching and electrochemical deposition into cold, aqueous solutions. Compared to drawing and winding Nivarox wires, this is a fairly unconventional method for manufacturing. For as long as watchmaking has been around, creating the balance springs has been one of the most difficult parts of the job. The wires must be drawn to a thickness in the hundredths of millimeters and wound and tempered to the exact hardness, ductility, and elasticity while compensating for environmental factors. Many substances change their properties during fabrication, so the Empa team decided to look to pure materials research as a way to find a means for fabricating balance springs that would remain stable.

They took silicon wafers (the same kind used for solar panels and computer chips), covered them in gold and a thin layer of light sensitive paint, and etched the shape of a spring into the wafer. The wafer was then dipped into a galvanic bath containing a salt solution from a metallic alloy — the spring acts as a cathode so that when an electric current passes through the bath, metal is deposited at the base of the spring. Once the spring is built up, it is dissolved from the mold and examined. After a bit of smoothing, the final spring is washed and sent to a lab for prototype production.

The electroplated springs are currently on display at the Laboratory for Mechanics of Materials and Nanostructures at the Empa campus in Thun, Switzerland. In the meantime, the first pilot tests are being wrapped up, and the team is beginning to work with Swiss watchmakers to see if their springs can hold up inside watch mechanisms.

[Thanks to Qes for the tip!]

Make An Electroplating Marker, Because Plating Complex Objects Is Hard

If an object is conductive or has been given a conductive coating, it can be given a metal skin via electroplating. Electroplating is a simple process that is perfectly accessible to anyone in possession of vinegar, salt, a power supply, and some metal such as copper or nickel.

The process might be simple, but as with all such things there are a few gotchas. One of them is this: because electricity follows the path of least resistance, recessed areas of an object may not electroplate well (or at all) no matter how long the object is left immersed. To address this, [Brodie Fairhall] designed a 3D printed electroplating marker. The marker is essentially a more refined version of brush plating, and allows more precision and control than full immersion in an electrolyte bath.

[Brodie] created an excellent video that explains all one needs to start electroplating, and demonstrates using his marker to electroplate complex recessed shapes. Watch him coat a 3D-printed cat pendant in both copper and nickel in the video embedded below. It’s concise, well-edited, and chock full of useful tips.

Continue reading “Make An Electroplating Marker, Because Plating Complex Objects Is Hard”

Metal 3D Printing With Your Printer

Over in Italy, [Robotfactory] has a new setup called CopperFace that they claim allows you to essentially electroplate 3D printed objects with a metal coating using copper, nickel, silver, or gold.

We’ve talked about electroplating on plastic before, but that technique required mixing graphite and acetone. The CopperFace kit uses a conductive graphite spray and claims it deposits about 1 micron of plating on the object every two minutes.

We couldn’t help but wonder if the graphite spray is just the normal stuff used for lubricant. While the CopperFace’s electroplating tech seems pretty standard (copper sulfate and copper/phosphorus electrodes), we also wondered if some of the simpler copper acetate process we’ve covered before might be workable.

Continue reading “Metal 3D Printing With Your Printer”

Growing Copper And Silver Crystals For Art

Usually when Hackaday covers electroplating techniques, it’s to talk about through-hole PCB plating. But did you know you can use the same method to produce beautiful copper and silver crystal structures?

[Fred and Connie Libby] are kind enough to share how they make their crystals that they sell in tiny glass vials you can wear around your neck. The process is simple as you would think; it’s just an electrolyte solution, with a current passing through it, depositing the metal in an ion-exchange. Rather then stop once the part is sufficiently covered, you let the process run amok, and soon large crystal formations begin to emerge. [Fred and Connie] share their technique very briefly, so if you’re looking for a more detailed how-to guide, you can find one here.

Although silver crystals are a bit out of our budget, we wonder how large of a copper crystal could be grown? Large enough to be displayed on a coffee table? Surely such a work of art and science could be an interesting conservation piece in any hacker’s home.

Copper Electroplating The Cheap And Safe Way

[A_Steingrube] has posted a guide to his favorite method of copper electroplating. Plating copper onto other metals is popular with the steampunk crowd, but it does have other uses. Copper plate is often used as a prep step for plating other metals, such as nickel and silver. It also (usually) increases the conductivity of the metal to be plated. [A_Steingrube] is using the copper acetate method of plating. What is somewhat novel about his method is that he chose to make his own electrolyte solution from household chemicals. The copper acetate is created by mixing distilled vinegar and household hydrogen peroxide in a 50/50 ratio. The mixture is heated and then a piece of copper scouring pad is placed in. The scouring pad is partially dissolved, providing copper ions, and turning the solution blue.

The next step is to clean the material to be plated. [A_Steingrube] uses Cameo Aluminum and Stainless cleaner for this, though we think any good degreaser will work. The actual electroplating process consists of connecting a piece of copper to the positive terminal of a 6 volt battery. Copper scouring pad is again used for its high surface area. The material to be plated is connected to the negative side of the battery. He warns to keep the solution and the material being plated in constant motion to avoid heavy “burn spots”, which can flake off after the plating process. The results speak for themselves. As with any bare copper material, the electroplated layer will quickly oxidize if not protected.