3D printing of plastics is now a common thing. However, 3D printing of metals was not possible until now. But it seems this impossibility could now become a reality, thanks to a team of researchers from the University of Twente, Netherlands. They have found a way to 3D print gold and copper structures by piling up microscopically small metal droplets. A thin metal film is melted with the use of pulsed laser to create these droplets. As 3D printing can build metal structures which can conduct electricity and heat better, it could help in the creation of new devices and elements.
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High Resolution Metal Printing
Researchers from the University of Twente and FOM have taken a step towards high-resolution metal printing. The team used laser light to melt gold and copper into micrometer-sized droplets and set them down in a controlled way.
The method that they followed required them to focus a pulsed laser on a thin metal film that melts locally and changes into a flying drop. This drop is then placed carefully onto a substrate. As the process is repeated, a 3D structure is made.
The team stacked numerous drops to create micro-pillars which are 2 millimeters in length and 5 microns in diameter. According to the researchers, any shape can be created using this process, even copper circuits and electrodes. The location of the drop impact is what decides the shape of the structure to be created.
Use of High Laser Energy
In the study, high laser energy was used to augment the impact velocity of the metal droplets. With low laser energy, the stack of solidified droplets that was created was less stable. But with high energy, the 3D printed structure will be a strong one.
The process is different from direct metal laser sintering or micro laser sintering, where laser is used along with metal powders to develop new structures.
However, there is one problem of using high laser energy. With its use, droplets land on the substrate beside the required location. This cannot be prohibited at present. The team will try to investigate the effect in the future so that clean printing can be done with gels, metals, pastas or even thick fluids.
The research has been published in the journal Advanced Materials.
What’s your take?
Are you happy with this latest development in 3D printing? Do you think 3D printing metals will take this technology even further? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image Source – instructables.com