Metal 3D Printing — a Dose of Reality

We have no doubt that hundreds of times a day a hacker is watching a 3D printer spew hot plastic and fantasizes about being able to print directly using metal. While metal printers are more common than ever, they are still out of reach for most people printing as a hobby. But as Mr. Spock once observed: “…you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.” However, metal 3D printing has its own unique set of challenges. Texas A&M recently produced a short video explaining some of the design issues that you’ll encounter trying to make practical metal prints on an SLS (Selective Laser Melting) printer. You can see the video below.

The description says “It is more challenging to ‘metal 3D print’ a part than most people think. We’ve noticed the same even with plastic printers as friends will expect us to print the most outlandish things for them. What we like about this video is it helps to set expectations of the current state of the art so we’re not expecting far more than today’s metal printers can produce.

Among the features covered in the video are overhangs, which require supports. After removal, the surface is about like 80 grit sandpaper unless you perform further finishing. Just like plastic parts, warping and curling of large areas is a problem with metal. If you’ve ever been frustrated removing plastic support material, try having to ceramic grind metal supports off. They also use an EDM machine to cut especially tough supports, but it causes a lot of effort since it is likely to run through EDM wires and clog the filters.

We looked at recent advances in metal printing last year. We’ve seen homebrew machines that were little more than welders under computer control and we’ve seen plans by big players like HP to create metal prints, but at a steep price. Still, you can’t stop the march of 3D printing progress.

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This Beer Keg Is A Side Car

Bikes are a great way to get around. They’re cheap compared to cars and can be faster through city traffic, and you can get some exercise at the same time. The one downside to them is that the storage capacity is often extremely limited. Your choices are various bags strapped to the bike (or yourself), a trailer, or perhaps this bicycle side car made from a beer keg.

Sidecars are traditionally the realm of motorcycles, not bicycles, but this particular bike isn’t without a few tricks. It has an electric motor to help assist the rider when pedaling. With this platform [Laura Kampf] has a lot of potential. She got to work cutting the beer keg to act as the actual side car, making a hinged door to cover the opening. From there, she fabricated a custom mount for the side car that has a custom hinge, allowing the side car to stay on the road when the bike leans for corners.

For those unfamiliar, [Laura] is a master welder with a shop located in Germany. We’ve seen some of her work here before, and she also just released a video showing off all of her projects for the last year. If you’re an aspiring welder, or just like watching a master show off her craft, be sure to check those out or go straight to the video below.

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Can You 3D Print an Axe?

3D printers hit the scene in a big way in the last decade, and thanks to the constant improvements that we’ve seen since then you can now get a decent one, assembled or as a kit, for a reasonable price. The one major drawback is that almost all of these printers are limited to printing in plastic, which has its obvious limitations. Printing in metal seems like the next logical step, and a group from Michigan Tech has created something that is accessible to most of us. Spoiler: they used plastic and metal printing to print a functioning axe.

Untill now, most metal printers have used a process like laser sintering to achieve the desired effect. This group uses a much more common tool: a MIG welder. MIG welders work by passing a wire through the welding handle, which would normally used as the filler material for the weld. If you use the wire for laying down material rather than for welding specifically, you can build up material on a surface in essentially the same way that a printer that prints plastic would.

From there, all that’s needed is to attach the MIG welder to a CNC machine and get to printing. The team has produced some great results so far, including some metal braces and farm implements, so hopefully their work leads to another revolution in 3D printing for the masses. We think it’s high time.

3D-Printed Punch and Die Stand up to Steel

When you think of machine tooling, what comes to mind might be an endmill made of tungsten carbide or a punch and die made of high-speed steel. But surely there’s no room in the machine tool world for 3D-printed plastic tools, especially for the demanding needs of punching parts from sheet metal.

As it turns out, it is possible to make a 3D-printed punch and die set that will stand up to repeated use in a press brake. [Phil Vickery] decided to push the tooling envelope to test this, and came away pleasantly surprised by the results. In fairness, the die he used ended up being more of a composite between the carbon-fiber nylon filament and some embedded metal to reinforce stress points in the die block. It looks like the punch is just plastic, though, and both were printed on a Markforged Mark 2, a printer specifically designed for high-strength parts. The punch and die set were strong enough to form 14-gauge sheet steel in a press brake, which is pretty impressive. The tool wasn’t used to cut the metal; the blanks were precut with a laser before heading to the press. But still, having any 3D-printed tool stand up to metal opens up possibilities for rapid prototyping and short production runs.

No matter what material you make your tooling out of, there’s a lot to know about bending metal. Check out the basics in our guide to the art and science of bending metal.

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Digital Kiln

A kiln or foundry is too often seen as a piece of equipment which is only available if a hackspace is lucky enough to have one or individuals are dedicated enough to drop the cash for one of their own. [The Thought Emporium] thought that way until he sourced materials to make his own kiln which can also be seen after the break. It costs half the price of a commercial model not including a failed—and exploded—paint can version.

As described in the video, these furnaces are tools capable of more than just pottery and soft metal baubles. Sure, a clay chess set would be cool but what about carbon fiber, graphene, aerogel, and glass? Some pretty hot science happens at high temperatures.

We get a nice walk-through of each part of the furnace starting with the container, an eleven-gallon metal tub which should set the bar for the level of kiln being built. Some of the hardware arrangements could be tweaked for safety and we insist that any current-carrying screw is safely mounted inside an enclosure which can’t be opened without tools. There’s good advice about grounding the container if metal is used. The explanation of PID loops can be ignored.

What else can you do with a kiln? How about jewelry, heat treating metal, or recycle your beer cans into an engine.

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A Thoughtful Variety of Projects and Failures

Our friends at [The Thought Emporium] have been bringing us delightful projects but not all of them warrant a full-fledged video. What does anyone with a bevy of small but worthy projects do? They put them all together like so many mismatched LEGO blocks. Grab Bag #1 is the start of a semi-monthly video series which presents the smaller projects happening behind the scenes of [The Thought Emporium]’s usual video presentations.

Solar eclipse? There are two because the first was only enough to whet [The Thought Emporium]’s appetite. Ionic lifters? Learn about the favorite transformer around the shop and see what happens when high voltage wires get too close. TEA lasers? Use that transformer to make a legitimate laser with stuff around your house. Bismuth casting? Pet supply stores may have what you need to step up your casting game and it’s a total hack. Failures? We got them too.

We first covered ionocraft (lifters) awhile back. TEA lasers have been covered before. Casting is no stranger to hackaday but [The Thought Emporium] went outside the mold with their technique.

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Wield The Power of Molten Metal

[TheBackyardScientist] at it again with another super villain-esque demonstration of gadgetry: a liquid metal squirt gun.

The squirt gun has a compressed air tank like most others — more on that later — but to fire its primary ammunition, a nozzle that connects directly to an air compressor is needed. Again, like most guns of this nature, air is forced into the gun’s reservoir, displacing the pewter and expelling it out the gun’s barrel. Yes, pewter.

Working around the heat tolerances of thread seal tape, pewter has a low enough melting point that an airtight system is preserved — plus it’s really cool to fire a stream of liquid metal. The ammunition is made from pewter ware melted down and cast into pucks. These pucks are stacked into the gun’s magazine, melted with a propane torch and carefully loaded into the gun.

The built-in compressed air tank lacks the oomph to push out the pewter — hence the air compressor, but any lighter liquids or condiments are fair game for rapid-fire exercises. Yes, condiments.

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