Patent filed for metal 3D printing without layers

The patent for a metal 3D printing method reportedly capable of  producing entire objects in a single step has been published online by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Invented by Nataša Muševič, director of Research and Development at small-scale manufacturing provider and consultancy Zavod Park in Slovenia, the system is a method of support-free 3D printing that harnesses “magnetic levitation.”

According to the company, “The proposed technical solution enables volumetric additive manufacturing of entire objects at once, opening a new chapter of additive manufacturing, especially of metals.”

The international filing for this document was made on the 12th of June 2018, and it was subsequently published on the 20th December in the same year.

Multiple electron beams are focused on a central spot to melt the metal powder therein. Image via WIPO
Multiple electron beams focus on a central volume of metal powder to-be-melted. Image via WIPO

Inside Zavod Park

Located in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, Zavod Park is a service provider allowing companies to outsource their R&D. The type of services offered by the company include 3D printing, 3D modeling, prototyping, materials development and post production. Unusual as they are varied, past projects at Zavod Park have included the creation of organically shaped speakers; a holder to help illuminate material samples; and a promotional video for custom software development company BioSistemika.

Muševič has been the director of Zavod Park since 2012. During this time, she has also worked as IP strategist and contract negotiator for Pel3ó, a startup seeking the development of “a new type of rapid prototyping and mass production technology,” and has taken part in an acoustics additive manufacturing project funded by Slovenia’s Ministry of Culture.

At present, Zavod Park holds the broker’s rights to Muševič’s new metal 3D printing patent, and is charge of publicly representing her as the inventor.

3D printing without layers

Muševič’s invention is a 3D printing system that relies on the composition of volumetric parts, e.g. blocks, or spheres, rather than layers.

In this method, a magnetic field is used to levitate metal powders within a “melting volume.” When levitated, the powders are constrained to a particular volume. Here, multiple electron beams (at least two) are activated, melting the powder, which then cools to form a solid part.

A cat model broken down into the respective spherical volumes required for fabrication using the method of volumetric 3D printing. Image via WIPO
A cat model broken down into the respective spherical volumes required for fabrication using the method of volumetric 3D printing. Image via WIPO

Strength from all angles

One of the main technical problems this method seeks to overcome is the ridged surface finish layer-by-layer 3D printing gives to its objects. By enabling the simultaneous fabrication in multiple difference direction, the method also seeks to better the strength of these more traditionally 3D printed objects. This is explained in the patent application as follows:

“The main problem solved by invention according to the present disclosure is the problem of additive manufacturing of three-dimensional objects by sequential stacking of two-dimensional layers of material, where said layers are stacked in one main printing direction (third dimension, usually height z) and where the thickness of said layers, which are being stacked, also determines the outer edge of the object or its surface,”

“respectfully and in this way the thickness of said layers effects the appearance of the fabricated object.”

Through its use of magnets, Muševič also sees the potential for this method to be used in zero-gravity fabrication.

Stranger than fiction

It’s a tricky concept to grasp for sure, but volumetric 3D printing itself is not so much a crazy concept as it may seem. Though admittedly for polymers rather than metals, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is leading an ongoing study into the potential of this fabrication technology alongside collaborators at UC Berkley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Rochester. Most recently, an IBM patent that uses “acoustic holograms” to fabricate objects has also come to light.

Further details of the Zavod Park volumetric 3D printing process are available in WIPO patent WO/2018/229085, titled “A MACHINE AND A METHOD FOR ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING OF THREE-DIMENSIONAL OBJECTS.”

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Featured image: Pew pew! Two electron beam guns fire at a centralized volume of powdered metal. Image via WIPO