As the bottom end of 3D Printing is being filled with hundreds of different companies competing for market share, new machines are appearing. Only a month after Airbus announced its intentions of developing massive 3D Printers that can manufacture whole wings and fuselages, researchers at Swinburne University in Melbourne Australia managed to develop one of the biggest metal 3D Printer. Contained within a sleek room with wall to floor windows, lasers go about fusing metal powders together.
Big Printer is A Big Step
Professor Syed Masood and his team developed the machine as a way of making efficient moulds as well as directly manufacturing pieces.
Observing the way that parts are made for motor vehicles, Swinburne PhD graduate Dr Khalid Imran and his supervisor Professor Syed Masood noted that once aluminium components are cast into a steel die or mould, the molten aluminium takes a lengthy time to cool down and solidify because steel is a poor thermal conductor and tends to hold the heat in the mould. The component can’t be removed from the mould until it has cooled and hardened. …..Although die-casters pump coolants through channels in the steel moulds to hasten the process, it still takes a considerable time for the moulds to cool, explains Dr Imran. And in the competitive manufacturing industry, time equals money, particularly in Australia where wages and energy costs are high compared with countries such as China and India.
The advantage of this machine is that they have developed a way to use Direct Metal Deposition (image explaining it below, link goes to paper) to create parts with several different metals. Sandwiching copper to conduct heat away from the piece and cool it faster means that more parts can be made with one mould at a quicker pace. Australia’s high labour costs impact competitiveness with China or India. With this machine, researchers argue, labour productivity can be increased. In the long-run, multiple material metal printing would be a real paradigm shifter. I can’t imagine what the properties of a macrolatticed alloy would be like, combined with the massive design envelope that 3D printing has.