3D Printing

Heavy metal overhangs are here!

Large and heavy overhangs often create problems for the 3D printing process, but a new soluble carbon steel structure could be the answer.

The very nature of 3D printing means that large overhangs need a support structure or it can collapse during the production as one layer simply cannot sustain itself. As a result, support structures are often required and that can add a great deal of time, work and money to the post print process.

It also means a lot more materials are required for the first print and, even if they can be recycled, there is a cost attached.

Carbon-steel that washes off

This new process, which is outlined in a piece in the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing journal, involved a carbon-steel support that can be removed by electrochemical etching with nitric acid and bubbling oxygen.

The researchers demonstrated the potential of this technique by printing a 90-degree overhang, which obviously has a number of industrial applications.

Arizona State University’s Owen Hildreth, Pennsylvania State University’s Abdalla Nassar and Timothy Simpson and the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Kevin Chasse were involved. Skylar Tibbits, a Director at the Self-Assembly Lab in MIT and founder of SJET LLC, headed up the team. This level of collaboration shows just how important this technology is to the industrial and military sector.

In short, it can change the way we make complex structures.

Less is almost always more

3D printing technology is improving all the time, but there are certain structures that we still have to make in parts. This new technique means that the industry could reduce the number of separate piece in complex structures, which can make the finished product lighter and stronger.

Lower costs due to the reduced post print processing could also mean that 3D printing becomes a viable option for companies that simply cannot consider it right now.

Metal 3D printing is on the rise and parts produced with additive manufacturing feature on aircraft, satellites and medical implants.

Early concerns about consistency have fallen by the wayside and 3D printing is crossing over into the mainstream.

The likes of NASA have confirmed that using 3D printing means they can redesign entire components from the ground up, reducing weight and increasing the strength and durability as a result. Certain structures, though, are still made in parts.

Steel frame with large overhangs

Complex structures could become viable prints

A support structure that can basically ‘wash off’ opens up a world of possibilities. Hugely complex structures are, theoretically at least, viable prints now. That could change the cost equation and help additive manufacturing strengthen its case to displace the traditional production line. It’s just another benefit of 3D printing and they are starting to add up.

“This innovative new approach using Directed Energy Deposition for 3D printing of dissolvable metallic components, without the need for machining operations to remove the sacrificial support materials, creates opportunities for new types of applications,” said Tibbits. “I’m excited to see what effects this research has on the future of metal printing.”

We’re sure this is going to have a major impact on metal printing as a whole as this gives us the capacity to produce frames and structure in one piece that simply wouldn’t have been possible before. It has potential applications in aerospace, construction and more.

Designers can now focus their efforts on the best solutions, rather than making compromises to compensate for the manufacturing process. This could have a massive impact on the strength of the final product, as well as the cost.

The full research paper ‘Dissolvable metal supports for 3D direct metal printing‘ is available online.