When can we starting 3D printing suits of armor? Well, looks like we are already. Three-dimensional metal printing technology is an expanding field that has enormous potential applications in areas ranging from supporting structures, functional electronics to medical devices.
Conventional 3D metal printing is generally restricted to metals with a high melting point, and the process is rather time consuming.
Scientists at the Beijing Key Laboratory of CryoBiomedical Engineering, part of the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have developed a new conceptual 3D printing method with “ink” consisting of a metal alloy that has a melting point slightly above room temperature.
A new study published by the journal SCIENCE CHINA Technological Sciences, researchers Liu Jing and Wang Lei present a liquid-phase 3D printing technique for the rapid manufacturing of a conductive metal object in one, two or three dimensions.
Compared with air cooling in conventional 3D printing, their liquid-phase manufacturing process prevents the metal ink from oxidation.
They outline their findings in a study entitled “Liquid phase 3D printing for quickly manufacturing conductive metal objects with a low melting point alloy ink.”
In recent years, these scientists state, metals with a low melting point, especially metals that melt at room temperature, have attracted extensive attention in the areas of computer chip cooling, thermal interface materials, and microfluidics.
“Such material has also been proposed as printing ink with evident value in direct writing electronics and 3D printing technology,” the Beijing researchers add. In their new study, a four-element alloy, Bi35In48.6Sn16Zn0.4, was developed and adopted as the printing ink.
These scientists likewise developed a streamlined fabrication process.
First, a 3D object is generated as a computer-aided design (CAD) model, and then converted into an STL (STereoLithography) file. The STL file is imported into an open source software program that generates slices of the object as a set of horizontal layers and that generates tool paths for each layer.
The printing ink is dropped into a liquid phase cooling fluid via an injection needle; the object is printed layer by layer.
Let the nerds of L.A.R.P rejoice! That’s Live Action Roll Playing for those of you wondering…