5:17 p.m. Thu, January 25, 2024
MIT researchers have developed a new 3D printer that squirts out liquid metal to quickly produce large objects like furniture parts. The system deposits molten aluminum through a path of tiny glass beads that resembles a mold. To demonstrate, the team made sturdy parts such as chair legs.
“If we could turn this machine into something that people could actually use to melt down recycled aluminum and print parts, it would be a game-changer for metal manufacturing. At the moment it’s not reliable enough for that, but that’s the goal,” says Skylar Tibbits, associate professor in the Department of Architecture and co-director of the Self-Assembly Lab.
While the technique is apparently ten times faster than other types of metal additive manufacturing, the resulting structures are quite rough around the edges. Still, the researchers believe it is “suitable for some applications in architecture, construction, and industrial design, where components of larger structures often do not require extremely fine detail,” according to MIT News. “It could also be used effectively for rapid prototyping with recycled or scrap metal.”
The team chose aluminum because it is commonly used in construction and can be recycled cheaply and efficiently.
Bread-loaf-sized pieces of aluminum are placed in an electric oven, “which is basically like an enlarged toaster,” Karsan adds. Metal coils in the furnace heat the metal to 700 degrees Celsius, slightly above aluminum’s melting point of 660 degrees.
The aluminum is kept at a high temperature in a graphite crucible, and then the molten material is fed by gravity through a ceramic nozzle along a preset path into a print bed. They found that the more aluminum they could melt, the faster the printer could work.
More 3D printing magic here!