Sigma Labs, known for its PrintRite3D in-process quality control technology for 3D printing, has announced a potential partnership with Michigan Technological University to support the development of its low-cost 3D metal printer. This 3D metal printer was originally developed as an open source project out of the Michigan Tech lab of Professor Joshua Pearce and uses arc welding to 3D print metal objects for just over $1,000. On December 20, 2013, the two institutions established a Memorandum of Understanding that laid out their intentions to work together in finalizing their 3D metal printer. At this stage, the 3D printer requires “3- or 5-axis machining to take the parts to final form”, according to their press announcement.
If Sigma Labs can offer the quality control necessary for affordable 3D metal printing, the results of this partnership could lead to a complete transformation of the industry. However, this raises the question of what happens to the open source nature of the 3D metal printer. Those designs have already made their way onto the Internet, so hopefully they’ll be able to cause the proliferation of a whole range of metal RepRaps that don’t rely on the PrintRite3D technology. There may also be some wariness about any patents filed around the metal RepRap that might prevent such Maker innovations.
The two institutions have only established an MOU, however, which means that neither party has to proceed any further with their work around the project until a definitive agreement has been signed. So, at this point, things are still up in the air.