The Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden, Germany, has developed a metal filament that, reportedly, can be 3D printed in “standard printers.”
Dr. Johannes Pötschke, heads of the Hardmetals and Cermets (ceramic-metals) group at Fraunhofer IKTS confirms, “The filaments can be used as semi-finished products in standard printers and, for the first time, make it possible to print hardmetals with a very low metal binder content […]”
The development was due to be presented at last week’s European Powder Metallurgy Association‘s (EPMA) EuroPM2018 congress and exhibition in Bilbao, Spain.
Desktop 3D printing with hardmetals
Hardmetals are typically a type of cemented carbine, used to made industrial cutting tools, and other hard-wearing components. Common hardmetal combinations include tungsten carbide (WC), titanium carbide (TiC), tantalum carbide (TaC) and cobalt or nickel mixtures.
Though industrial binder jet and polymer 3D printers are capable of working with these materials, Fraunhofer IKTS’ research seeks more cost-effective and flexible means of production.
IKTS shaping expert Dr. Tassilo Moritz explains, “The material-efficient FFF […]opens up interesting possibilities for the production of large, complex prototypes or special tools made of hardmetals.”
The Fraunhofer IKTS recipe
Fraunhofer IKTS has made FFF 3D printable filaments by combining hardmetal powders with organic binders – solid examples of which includes corn starch, the base ingredient of PLA.
Parts can be 3D printed in the composite filament on a desktop system (The Hage3D 140 L is given as an example) then they are post-sintered in a furnace, to burn out all organic content and fuse the metal particles together.
Though this material composition is not entirely new, (for example the 2017 3D Printing Industry Awards trophy made from Virtual Foundry Filamet) IKTS’ success is in the low binder content of its filament.
According to Dr. Pötschke, their development makes it possible to 3D print hardmetal filaments containing only 8% binder, “and a fine grain size below 0.8 micrometers.”
Experimental components made from the material at IKTS have demonstrated an extreme hardness of up to 1700 HV10.
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Featured image shows an FFF 3D printed hardmetal sample made on a Hage3D 140 L desktop system. Photo via Fraunhofer IKTS