Whoa! That came out of left field. Sigma Labs, known for its PrintRite3D in-process quality control technology for 3D printing, has just announced a potential partnership with Michigan Technological University to support the development of its low-cost 3D metal printer. The, originally open source, 3D metal printer was developed out of the Michigan Tech lab of Professor Joshua Pearce and used arc welding to 3D print solid metal objects for just over $1,000. On December 20, 2013, the two institutions established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that laid out their intentions to work together in finalizing their 3D metal printer, which, at this stage, requires “3- or 5-axis machining to take the parts to final form”, according to the press release.
Mark Cola, CEO of Sigma Labs, explained their role in the partnership, “Michigan Tech has recently developed an open source 3D printer based on gas metal arc welding technology. Sigma Labs has a unique knowledge base in advanced sensing and process control for gas metal arc welding. The enabling technology for the contemplated new product would be based on our proprietary and patent-protected PrintRite3D® quality control and sensing technologies. Along with strategic partners, we intend to develop, test, and launch a customized, low-cost 3D printing solution for metals like titanium, steel, aluminum, and nickel-based alloys. Our low-cost printing technology is directly focused at servicing the currently untapped market of tens of thousands of users presently dissuaded by the high-cost, barriers to entry of 3D laser powder-bed solutions. Lastly, we have identified manufacturing sources capable of producing our low-cost 3D printing technology.”
Super exciting stuff! If Sigma Labs can offer the quality control necessary for affordable 3D metal printing, the results of their partnership could lead to a complete transformation of the industry. 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 net, 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. We also have to be wary of 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 because no such agreement is required to take place under the MOU.
Source: The Sacramento Bee