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Summary:

The team’s lead said he expects the open-source invention to kickstart the creation of more metal printers. While he’s worried about the implications of printing metal, he believes it will do more good than harm.

A metal cuff 3D printed at Shapeways. Photo by Signe Brewster
photo: Signe Brewster

More and more, it’s clear that 3D printers aren’t just for printing plastic. A team at Michigan Technological University announced Monday that it has created a personal (albeit slightly dangerous) metal 3D printer. The design will be released for free to all as an open-source project and can be built from parts costing less than $1,500.

The printer works by laying down layers of steel that are sealed together with a commercially available welder that is integrated into the printer. The design is still in its infancy, but the team expects that making it open source will speed its development.

Michigan Tech Metal 3D printer

“Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it,” team lead Joshua Pearce said in a release. “Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it.”

Pearce said the printer is best suited to use in a garage or shop because its operator still needs to wear safety equipment. In the picture above, you can note the flying sparks.

There are already 3D printers that can create metal objects, but they tend to cost at least $500,000. Shapeways is willing to make almost any object in a variety of metals for buyers on its professional printers. Recently, a Colorado-based team began marketing a sub-$1,000 metal 3D printer on Kickstarter called the Mini Metal Maker. But it works with metal clays, which are softer and require the extra step of being fired in a kiln.

The Mini Metal Maker 3D printer. Photo courtesy of Mini Metal Maker

The Mini Metal Maker 3D printer. Photo courtesy of Mini Metal Maker

Pearce acknowledged that while the home metal 3D printer could create a new set of problems for the world, they will do more good than harm.

“I really don’t know if we are mature enough to handle it, but I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which ‘replicators’ can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost,” Pearce said in the release. “Pretty soon, we’ll be able to make almost anything.”

Pearce named researchers and entrepreneurs in developing countries as people who could benefit especially from metal 3D printers.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many,” Pearce said in the release.

  1. The3DPrinter.com Monday, December 2, 2013

    Hey Signe Brewster,

    I have commented several times to different posts you have made about 3D Printing and yet no reply. Have you been given instructions not to give me the time of day?

    Robert McLean
    The3DPrinter.com
    Metal3DPrinter.com
    Metal3DPrinting.com

    Sincerely yours

    1. Why don’t you try actually inventing something ‘The3DPrinter.com’ instead of just sitting on websites. That’s why you don’t get the time of day!

  2. FYI. Top, summary photo of Gold Metal Cuff is from Shapeways.

  3. Just out on a limb here. But I would imagine that the reason he hasn’t talked to you is that Mr. Brewster is focused on the development of 3D printers and the advancement and improvement of them. Of these things you don’t have any knew info to offer as you have cashed in on domain names hoping to make a pretty profit off of them.

  4. This sounds promising…you could simply use the metal 3D printer to print open source lab equipment. Found a good link:
    http://store.elsevier.com/coArticle.jsp?pageid=18200010

  5. James Ypsilantis Sunday, December 22, 2013

    Awesome! Keep pushing the tech… seems like 3D ceramics using sintering like systems shouldn’t hurt either. I think energy efficiency (time, money) for fabrication of stuff is a target goal too for inspiration pf future systems for profitability and market dominance. I think for complex electronic, electro-mechanical and other novel complex construct systems… 3D printing with multiple materials is the methodology to construct even human organ structures and systems once the resolution is taken to theoretical limits of mass and energy. Once that target vision milestone is complete we as a society should be able to have our wristwatch if not remote satellite interferometry based servant system to teleport… i.e. beam me up Scotty on demand to save on travel, lodging, clothing and food expenses. Though like you say… as with any change in a dynamic society… there are those that are more kinetic in nature that reject new socioeconomic civilized society stuff. Impact and risk assessments should mitigate that stuff with proper contingency planning.

  6. James Ypsilantis Monday, December 23, 2013

    Amazing the applications for custom made bio-integration components also, as I have a rod and three screws implanted in me, not just bio-equivalent as I was referring to in my above post. So layer ceramics like apatite on the metal matrix or other material matrix for more bio-equivalent bone and tissue grafts. This will require multihead multimaterial 3D printers that are a reality and feasible if the time and money are focused on the vision. Theoretically, as a chemist with a C.I.S. 2nd B.S. these type systems are probably just a step in a more bio-equivalent safer, cleaner, hygienic civilized society… or at least in the times of peace, reproduction and growth we can preserve. On another note, this link even notes food can be printed with a 3D printer. http://on3dprinting.com/tag/google/ Amazing the different potential market applications and even stuff to keep people safer and busy doing stuff off the streets.

  7. Technology is getting way out of hand.

  8. “Post Scarcity” is impossible. Scarcity is not a feature of matter – but a fundamental concept in the universe. You can have extremely refined capital, but there will still be opportunity cost (when you print something, you aren’t printing something else)

  9. What? They used Mig- welder to be used as a 3D-printer. Interesting test but I would not call it a 3D-printer. Quality must be horrible. Yes, I´m a welder ;)

    Metal 3D-printing could be then same as cutting hundreds of sheet metal pieces and welding them together.

    But anyways I bet investors are shouting like Fry from futurama ;)

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