Protolabs launches service for 3D printed copper parts

Protolabs, an award-winning on-demand manufacturing provider, has launched a copper 3D printing service, where it is now offering copper parts produced by additive manufacturing as well as CNC machining. By providing this service, Protolabs is looking to fill a gap in market for copper part suppliers, which are often prototyped or produced using CNC machining.

The company will 3D print the copper parts using CUNi2SiCR, a low alloyed copper material, and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), thus combining the benefits of copper with 3D printing’s ability to print complex geometries.

Andrea Landoni, Product Manager for Protolabs, commented: “This development means that engineers can now bring copper parts to market more quickly and cost effectively.”

“It also opens up new design possibilities as additive manufacturing allows you to develop geometries that are not possible using other methods, such as CNC machining. Some internal channels, for example, can create very complex issues.”

3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.
3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.

The difficulties of 3D printing copper

Pure copper is considered to have advantageous material properties such as malleability, and high thermal and electrical conductivity. However, due to the conductivity of the metal, copper has proven to be a difficult material for additive manufacturing as it reflects the heat applied by a laser beam. Despite this, alternative methods have been developed using electron beam melting (EBM) , Optomec’s trademark Aerosol Jet technology, and TRUMPF’s TruPrint Laser Metal Fusion (LMF) system to 3D print copper components.

Although 3D printing has developed to accommodate the material, according to Protolabs, “you will have to search far and wide to find a supplier” to source 3D printed copper parts. CNC machining has been the preferred option for getting copper parts designed and produced quickly at high volumes of several hundred or more, while also providing improved tolerances compared to 3D printing. Protolabs has already been producing copper parts using CNC machining as well as injection moulding.

3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.
3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.

3D printing copper parts with complex geometries

Protolabs is thus filling the gap left by suppliers by offering its new 3D printing copper part service to provide the benefits of 3D printing to potential customers looking to use copper parts for their projects. 3D printing enables a host of opportunities and options for design engineers that CNC does not offer. CNC machining relies on a subtractive manufacturing method, which not only wastes material, it prohibits the possibilities of complex geometrical designs and structures. 3D printing overcomes both of these problems, allowing for the production of copper parts with complex geometries like internal channels or honeycomb structures, that help to save weight in the part. Additive manufacturing produces less waste, uses less material and requires less labour in the process as well, proving more cost effective for low volumes of parts or prototypes.

Protolabs’ service uses DMLS and low alloyed copper material CUNi2SiCR to 3D print copper parts that combine the electric and thermal conductivity of copper with good mechanical properties and corrosion resistance. This allows for the design and use of parts in harsh environments where pure copper is not suitable. Furthermore, Protolabs is able to provide a functional copper end part for customers in a matter of days, printing complex designs uploaded by clients from CAD models, allowing for the reiteration of designs after testing. The company is also offering to post-CNC machine its 3D printed copper parts, in order to achieve tolerances similar to those produced by CNC machining.

3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.
3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.

Protolabs advancing its metal services

This is latest new service that Protolabs is providing for 3D printed metal parts. Previously, the company launched a service offering aluminum anodizing as part of its on-demand production service, in order to provide a total solution from initial part design to finished protected.

Protolabs also recently added metal materials Inconel 718 and Maraging Steel 1.2709 to its Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) 3D printing portfolio. These materials will allow the company to continue creating functional end-use 3D printed parts for the aerospace sector.

Protolabs is also sponsoring the 2019 3D Printing Industry Awards trophy design competition. Enter your design now to demonstrate your skills for a chance to win an Ultimaker 3.

You can now cast your vote for the third annual 3D Printing Industry Awards. Help decide this year’s winners now.

Subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter for the latest advancements in metal additive manufacturing. You can also keep connected by following us on Twitter and liking us on Facebook.

Looking for a career in additive manufacturing? Visit 3D Printing Jobs for a selection of roles in the industry.

Featured image shows 3D printed copper part from Protolabs. Image via Protolabs.