As a result, jewelry makers have found it to be a valuable way to manufacture goods. But unless they go through a service like Shapeways, any home or community printing is generally limited to what they can make out of plastic. It’s just not possible to work with metal on personal 3D printers.
The Pueblo, Col., team behind the Mini Metal Maker wants to bring a limited form of metal 3D printing into maker and artist homes via their Indiegogo campaign. The machine prints metal clay, which is composed of metal flakes mixed with a binder and water. Like plastic filament, the metal clay is melted and then extruded out of a nozzle. It hardens as the nozzle builds up layers to create a 3D object.
The clay then requires post-processing. It must be fired in a kiln, which removes the binder and water, leaving behind the metal.
The Mini Metal Maker currently prints at a resolution of 500 microns, but the team plans to improve it to 200 microns before it ships to Indiegogo backers. Compare that to the MakerBot Replicator 2′s 100 microns, and it’s not very impressive. But maybe crazy fine resolution isn’t as important for metal. The Mini Metal Maker’s prints look fairly organic anyway, like the metal clay runs a little bit after printing.
The creators think that beside jewelry makers, the printer could be of use to hobbyists who make items like watches. The campaign video shows gears printed on the Mini Metal Maker turning in a watch-like device. I could also see the printer being used for the same purposes for which the home 3D printer is touted: replacing broken parts, printing toys and creating other everyday items.
Kits with all of the parts necessary for a buyer to assemble a Mini Metal Maker are going for $750 on Indiegogo. An assembled printer with clay included is $1,000. Buyers will have to supply their own kiln. Printers are scheduled to ship to backers in September 2014, whether or not the campaign hits a goal of $10,000.