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back to article Drilling into 3D printing: Gimmick, revolution or spooks' nightmare?

3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is a subject that pumps out enthusiasts faster than any real-life 3D printer can churn out products. In conventional machining, computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CADCAM) combine to make products or parts of products by cutting away at, drilling and …

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Anonymous Coward

The future of 3D printing is already written. Just look at 2D printing and replicate.

So at the moment most people will look at the prices and go "No chance". Few people are prepared to spend £2000 on a decent one, the budget ones look too fiddly for the masses.

So the price will fall to £200 and you'll spend a small fortune on supplies instead. So you'll get a small spool of plastic cord, but replacing it will cost you £300.

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"plastic chord" from the pound shop costs, well, a pound. Hopefully the materials and printers will drop in price in the same way printer, paper and ink did. £50-£100 for the lot?

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Agreed totally. In fact the "hobbyist" nature of building your own 3d printer reminds me of the same thing happening with people building their own plotters in the 80s.

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How many people do you know currently own a Dremmel rotary tool? Like a dentists drill, it can be used for polishing, engraving, cutting and sanding. It is useful, and costs around £80. I know of two people who own one- a professional sculptor and and a hobbyist jewellery maker. I can't see the market for consumer 3D printers being much bigger.

One area where 3D printing bureaus can make a dent is in undercutting replacement parts. My Whirlpool tumble-dryer had a small plastic door latch that melted, and their website very efficiently charged me £18 for a replacement.

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> My Whirlpool tumble-dryer had a small plastic door latch that melted, and their website very efficiently charged me £18 for a replacement.

But surely the fittings on that small plastic door latch are proprietary IPR owned and licensed by Whirlpool so the creation of blueprints to replicate these will be an offence punishable by fines of ~$20K+ per infringement. You could redesign the shape of the handle, naturally, but being able to fit it to the door will require licensing of the right IPR.

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>But surely the fittings on that small plastic door latch are proprietary IPR

Good point, don''t know how it would work here. In the automotive industry, car manufacturers are not allowed to invalidate car guarantees because quality 3rd party parts have been used during servicing.

I wouldn't be ordering a specific Whirlpool part, but rather a piece of material of "X by Y by Zmm, with two 9mm holes, and an angled boss of 18 mm by .... " (well, I'd be submitting a CAD drawing, or maybe the bureau can do something with photos using clever software).

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"But surely the fittings on that small plastic door latch are proprietary IPR owned and licensed by Whirlpool "

Well, if I might (uncharacteristically) offer a glass half full thought for you both:

The chances of a home 3D printer being able to turn out a component of the accuracy and strength to replace the carefully designed and made door catch on a machine is in my view slim, and will remain so, because you won't be inclined to maintain separate supplies of powdered metal, polystyrene, polycarbonate, ABS etc etc. That means we won't see the emergence of options like buying the digital pattern to print at home. But where 3D printing might help is that if the makers can print parts using a proper professional tool that uses the original design and the right type of plastic (or whatever) then this might revolutionise the world of spare parts, since other than for high volume parts you'd not make and warehouse components, significantly reducing your overall spares cost base (much of which is inventory management, warehousing, and working capital).

Of course, lower production costs won't necessarily stop the makers pricing the parts at extortionate costs, as anybody who buys spares for Panasonic breadmakers will know, but there's some companies who are very good for spares (Bosch, Makita, come to mind in my experience).

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Anonymous Coward

Complete tosh.

If I have access to a lathe and workshop and make a replacement part for my car (perfectly possible for small parts), Ford or whoever wouldn't sue me for copyright infingement.

The same would be true if I created a "blueprint" to re-create a plastic part using a 3D Printer, then made and fitted it.

I would be infringing on their intellectual property if I then started to make and sell said part. Not sure about the publication of the "blueprint" or 3D Printer file though.

But simply replicating such a part for my own personal use in no way could be seen as "an offence punishable by fines of ~$20K+ per infringement".

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Luckily due to the open source nature the ink cost is being handled

http://hackaday.com/2013/03/05/finally-a-machine-that-makes-cheap-3d-printer-filament/

I think it will provide simple prototyping and custom parts for one off / concept designs.

I suspect jewellers, Artists and designers will have one in their arsenal. Hobbyists will also aspire to them, its going to be the hardware hackers equivalent of a lathe some weird guy you know will have one in the shed.

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err, I think you have the wrong end of the stick in thinking that personal use != copyright infringement.

The rights & wrongs of the current legislation can be debated, but as it stands the current law states you're not allowed to make unlicensed copies of IPR for any purpose (outside of fair use provisions if you're in the US and other countries that have these). You might be able to claim that looking at the CAD drawings fall into fair use, but using them to make a new physical part is certainly not within fair use

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>The chances of a home 3D printer being able to turn out a component of the accuracy and strength to replace the carefully designed and made door catch on a machine is in my view slim

It was 'carefully designed and made'.... 'carefully designed and made' to fail that is, and thus steer me towards their on-line spares shop! That was kind of my point, that their business model is compete on price in the showroom, then recuperate the cost by selling the spare parts. A business model that might conceivably be disrupted if a 'made to measure' plastic parts printing bureau (using some sort of Fused Material Deposition process but then chemically cured to create a thermosetting plastic part)

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Pirate

I'm not sure how making a new part to replace an old broken part is outside of fairuse. I mean that is almost the exact reason that CDs and DVDs are allowed copies, in the event of the original becoming damaged.

I think the the question you are proposing is whether or not you are buying the right to possess an object made from their IP. If that is the case, then the answer should be yes, at least one at any given time, and a copy from their IP to replace a defective/broken one should be well within fairuse.

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http://hackaday.com/2013/03/05/finally-a-machine-that-makes-cheap-3d-printer-filament/

This is very exciting. It begins the process of not just building the printers but also the infrastructure to

support the printers.

Still a long way to go before a printer can self duplicate (I know they can do a version of the structure. I mean the motors, drive screws etc).

But a good first move and like others, so simple once someone has worked out how.

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>Hobbyists will also aspire to them, its going to be the hardware hackers equivalent of a lathe some weird guy

you know will have one in the shed.

That's my take on it... 'Consumer' 3D printers will mainly appeal to people who already have lathes, Dremmels, tap and die sets etc.

Another model is that of a local bureau, servicing end users and other local businesses. Our local timber yard does CNC milling for £100 / hour (but it is such a big sturdy (and expensive) machine it can do jobs quickly, so depending upon the design it only adds 20 - 40% to the cost on top of the material) but you don't hear tech sites making as much noise about an arguably more useful technology (for making furniture, shelves, children's play equipment etc), though buzz-phases such as 'virtual manufacturing', 'long tail', and 'thousands of markets of a few' get invoked from time to time.

Something can help the bloke on the street make use of these services might be devices like the Kinect- MS's new SDK (for the Windows version, not the cheaper but near identical XBOX version) could easily be built upon to scan the back of your car and give you a 2D DWG of a replacement parcel-shelf. It has the bonus of making people look like Hans Solo in carbonite. Oh, a free DWG editor, including a version for your penguins http://www.3ds.com/products/draftsight/download-draftsight/#xtor=AD-508-[swfreetools]-[middle]-[intext]-[www.solidworks.com]

Hell, even the upcoming Playstation 4 allows for 3D modelling in a way that looks like it could complement traditional packages.

Other noises are being made about 'additive manufacturing', in which related technologies are used to achieve shapes and form that are hard to make by traditional means. Substrates for catalysts are an example, since they require a very high surface area to volume ratio. Another example would be structural components with 'property gradients', such as a beam of constant cross-section but of varying mechanical proprties along its length. This is possible using Selective Laser Sintering, using materials such as titanium. Such things are used in aerospace and motorsport- but then they tend to have small production runs anyway.

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Anonymous Coward

re: door latch

So did ours. You should have searched online. We got a replacement sent in 2 days for £2.50 including delivery.

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Dremels

"How many people do you know currently own a Dremmel rotary tool?"

My local B&Q sells enough to justify keeping a fairly large selection of wotsits for it, as well as a good stock of varying spec units (They do change so it's not just old stock).

I haven't bought one because I can't justify the need (haven't drilled PCBs in more than 15 years), but if it was a useful addition to a 3d printer I might just be tempted to do so.

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Anonymous Coward

You might get sued in the US, but outside of the Land of Litigation common sense is likely to prevail.

In the UK, it is technically illegal to copy/rip CDs for personal use, but no-one has ever been prosecuted for that and the same will very likely apply to someone using a 3D Printer to make a part for their tv/washing machine etc

Hyperbole such as these claims that you'll be breaching "fair use" is simply that - hyperbole. There's no way anyone will ever get sued or prosecuted (outside of the Land of Litigation, that is) for using a 3D Printer to make a copy of some widget for their own personal use.

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A part that was carefully designed enough to melt in presumably normal use? I'd take my chances with a 'probaby good enough' replacement, as the official part is demonstrably NOT good enough.

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Facepalm

err, I think you have the wrong end of the stick in thinking that physical objects of a purely non decorative functional nature fall under copyright.

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Re: Dremels

Thank you Alan for engaging with the question. True, a Dremmel can be an accompaniment to a 3D printer, as well as an alternative to a 3D printer for some tasks.

Yeah, I've spotted a fair few in B&Q, but still: I only know two people who own one. They are no where near as common as 18v drills.

Still, 18v drills, like timber yard CNC routers, are handy for real stuff - like furniture and shelves. Dremmels and 3D printers are for smaller fiddly things that are often mass produced anyway.

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Door catch

The chances of a home 3D printer being able to turn out a component of the accuracy and strength to replace the carefully designed and made door catch on a machine is in my view slim,

With an object the size of an average washing machine door catch, you're wrong about the accuracy, and close to wrong about the strength. Accuracy is more a matter of getting the dimensions right, which can be tricky in cases, than with the printer's ability to lay down material with the required precision. Strength can be a bigger problem, but having the catch fail again can be reduced to the matter of actually replacing the damn thing if you've printed a couple in advance, after you've got the design right. And well-designed 3D-printed parts can be remarkably strong; it may require some tweaks to the original design (within what's possible given the space constraints), but a true handyman dremeling a replacement out of a nylon/ABS/teflon block would do the same if he thinks the original was lacking.

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Apart from the fact

that you can already build your own 3D printer for around 200 - 300 quid, and a kilo spool of ABS plastic can be had for under 40 quid...............

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Alert

Perhaps surprisingly, no.

There's a lot of law pertaining to exhaust pipes in particular. It was established that car manufacturers had no rights over the manufacture of functionally equivalent parts which, externally, were indistinguishable from copies of a registered design, because they HAD to be exactly the same shape, diameter, etc. in order to attach to the car and not impede the operation of its engine. The internals were a different matter - there is freedom inside to make changes, and the third-party manufacturers were indeed making the innards differently to the car manufacturer.

Further, if you are making your own parts rather than manufacturing them for profit, you have even greater license. For example, you are allowed to make an instance of a mechanism described in a patent for your own curiosity, enjoyment, maintenance of a broken purchased item, etc. even though you need a license to sell such parts for profit.

As with audio and video, watch out for attempts to take away the freedoms we currently enjoy!

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@Dave 126

"How many people do you know currently own a Dremmel rotary tool? .... I know of two people who own one- a professional sculptor and and a hobbyist jewellery maker. I can't see the market for consumer 3D printers being much bigger."

... and there's only a world market for about five computers.

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Patents are not the problem

Patent laws protects the commercial exploitation of an idea. Meaning an individual is allowed to make a patented mechanism for his own use. He's not allowed to commercially market them though. Intellectual property law is a lot fuzzier though. What is and is not allowed has to be judged on a pretty much case by case basis. However, if you make a component that is not exactly the same, it's not the same design, thus not the same IP. And how the heck is a company going to find out about you making a few replacement parts for your clothes dryer?

As a mechanical engineer I'm extremely skeptical of all the claims about 3d printing. Most of them are simply false. Having witnessed the stupendous amount of specialist materials for all kinds of different application in just thermoplastics alone I can't see any individual ever being able to keep enough different materials in stock to be able to make parts with the same properties as the original. The design of thermoplastic parts is also not something for the layman. There's a lot of things to take into account to come up with a strong and lasting product. Lastly, when looking at cost, it's surprising how much cheaper economy of scale can make the production of parts. Some manufacturers order enough spare parts for something in a single run to last the supported lifetime of the product in a single run. Simply because the cost benefit of doing a single run is so great, it outstrips the cost for storage and shipping by a large margin. There is no way 3d printing is ever going to meet that kind of cost benefit. Just shipping the base material is probably as expensive as shipping a finished product.

When looking at the production of 3d printers themselves I also don't get the whole "self reproduction" idea. It's a nice thought, but in practice dedicated industrial milling machines, lathes and off the shelf parts are so much more effective at producing the required parts and tolerances it's amazing most hobbyists don't bother pursuing them. (For instance, most hobby printer designs I see still use brass or bronze friction bearings. However, recirculating ball bearing bushings of that size, with better accuracies and matching ground to size and made to length shafts can be had for couple of tenners. Throw in matching bearing blocks and the price rises to may rise to just over 100 coins. So why bother making the stuff yourself.

I can actually BUY ground shafts at the required length, including surface hardening and mounting holes pre-drilled cheaper than I can buy the base material. All this requires is that I set up a registered "company" and sell a few products in the name of that company every now and then for tax purposes (This costs quite a few bob every year unfortunately so you do need to make sure you save enough to justify the expense). I can then buy products directly from industrial suppliers)

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Re: Patents are not the problem

Having witnessed the stupendous amount of specialist materials for all kinds of different application in just thermoplastics alone I can't see any individual ever being able to keep enough different materials in stock to be able to make parts with the same properties as the original. The design of thermoplastic parts is also not something for the layman. There's a lot of things to take into account to come up with a strong and lasting product

But the replacement part, printed on a 3D-printer by someone who's fed up with using a tiedown strap to keep his washing machine door shut during operation, doesn't have to be as good as the original, it merely has to be good enough to do the job. And manufactured parts are also designed to use a minimum of material, or rather material times volume price. So what if the 3D-printed part uses 50% more? If it fits and it works, that's what matters. And even at a (generous) few Euros worth of filament, accounting for the tries in getting the design right and the couple of extras printed, you're probably still ahead of ordering a single one from the manufacturer.

And there are the parts that you simply can't get anymore because the manufacturer's stock has run out, or they've gone out of business. Or the parts that may still be available NOS, but that will be just as old and brittle as the one that you're wanting to replace.

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Why the state involvement?

Why does the state think it needs to get involved with handing out a few million? If it's good, then pure market forces will ensure that the good products will succeed. As it is, government hand outs tend to keep the bad stuff going.

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Unhappy

Re: Why the state involvement?

"Why does the state think it needs to get involved with handing out a few million?"

Because the pols and civil servants can be seen to be "doing something", and because they aren't spending their own money. Wherever you look there's a few million leaking here and there, but when they already spend £120 billion pound a year more than they raise in taxes, what's another few million?

Another example is the government's idiotically conceived "Green deal", whose central premise was that the peasants could pay for property improvements through a loan whose costs would be lower than the savings on energy bills (so no cost to government or other energy users). This became a ghastly, bureaucratic nightmare, so to try and drum up some demand the clowns at DECC rustled up £125m to pay as cashback to early adopters. Look at all the money being channeled to BT to roll out rural broadband - on the presumption that farmers, vets, rural artists and retirees will somehow generate a return on this "investment" that they won't pay for themselves.

That's now the mindset of both government and civil service - that anything that doesn't have "billion" after it is such small change that it can be routinely frittered on whatever daft and ineffectual idea spring into their vacant little brains.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why the state involvement?

Because you failed Econ 101. Go back and reread about externalities until you understand the most obvious reason why free markets are imperfect and governments can improve overall utility through taxation and subsidization.

There are other reasons why free markets are imperfect, but externalities are the simplest and most often cited one. Monopoly/oligopoly behavior is also likely to come into play here.

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Meh

The technology is a long way off, but part of the "spooks' nightmare" is probably the ability to print functional firearm parts, googling the name Cody Wilson gives you an example of one of the movement's more famous publicists.

Essentially, their goal is for every citizen (in the world) to be able to download a CAD file for their weapon of choice and print it in their own home. Presumably, all that would be required is the computer, printer, electricity, and raw materials (steel, plastic, gunpowder, etc.).

One of their quotes is: "How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the Internet?"

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Anonymous Coward

They already do in the country your talking about. (There have been updates on the story you refer to)

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Well...

...they'd be far less eager to raid saver's bank accounts to prop up European bankers.

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really, how different is it from me making my own bows and fletching my own arrows?

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to Andrew Moore

Presumably, that requires certain skills (choosing and working the wood, attaching feathers and points, nocking/stringing etc.); these would take time to learn and possibly a teacher too. The same could probably be said about "traditional" gunsmithing.

Compare with pressing "Print".

Although, I'd accept that if two people tried these different approaches, starting today, the aspiring bowyer/fletcher would probably have a useful product before the aspiring firearm printer.

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Childcatcher

Re: to Andrew Moore

Yeah, I have the blueprints to the AK-47 and sten sub-machine guns right here. (aka grease-gun) I also have a lathe, a milling machine, some steel stock, plate working tools, access to a welding machine, etc. I can also get the needed material to make a barrel without much fuss. The tooling I can build myself as well.

Building a working sten would be pretty damn easy. Building a working AK not that much harder (although getting the gas system to work is supposedly a bit of faff). Building a single shot or breach loaded weapon I could do in a few hours, without blueprints. Getting the ammo for them would be a little more difficult in this part of the world though. I have no interest in doing so, but building an arsenal without raising any suspicion is already not that difficult.

Building a completely printed 3d weapon however is not as easy as most of these idealist nutcases would seem to believe

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Part of the process

It is rather obvious to me that 3D Printing, of one sort or another, could make a big different to metal casting.

The two main options are actually making moulds, and making the master-models from which the mould is made. Depending on the particular process, those parts can be damaged or destroyed at later stages.

Can a 3D Printer make the sand-based moulds for casting iron? I doubt it, and I doubt whether developing the tech to do so would be worth it.

Could 3D printing make the master model for a process such as lost-wax casting? It seems pretty likely to me, and it is a process for high-value cast metal items.

And there are in-between processes, such as what Games Workshop does. Put a 3D printer in the chain from designer to production, and it might lead to changes in what the business can do.

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Re: Part of the process

I could see Games Workshop being challenged by this technology... If people enjoy building their own armies and painting the miniatures, they would enjoy designing their own characters online as well before having them printed and posted out.

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Re: Part of the process

> Can a 3D Printer make the sand-based moulds for casting iron? I doubt it, and I doubt whether developing the tech to do so would be worth it.

But can't a 3D printer make a copy of the object to be cast in iron and that could easily be used to make the sand-based mould? Or does it get rather more complicated than this simplification in "real" industrial processes (IANAIron Caster)?

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Re: Part of the process

I've heard of people printing in wax.

These samples look good:

http://www.shapeways.com/blog/archives/520-very-high-detail-printing-also-in-wax.html

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Re: Part of the process

"But can't a 3D printer make a copy of the object to be cast in iron"

Don't see why not - the only complication is scaling the pattern to allow for the shrinkage of different metals in casting. These patterns used to be made in wood and various non-standard rulers were used to get the correct size for the finished product AFAIK

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Re: Part of the process

I can see them making piles of money if they get into this sensibly (i.e. doing what you described).

However, as it's GW we're talking about, that's probably a 72 point "if".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Part of the process@Dave 126

"I could see Games Workshop being challenged by this technology... "

I can't. The whole GW concept is that THEY create the rules, the points and the whole of various different worlds (orcs/spacemarines etc), and they then sell the nicely profitable models. Just because somebody else could make similar scale models, unless they are identical to GW items (and therefore in breach of copyright) then they have no value in the nerdy, rules based world.

You could modify an Airfix 1:72 model to use in GW games, and save a lot of money. But generally speaking people don't, because for Warhammer players, authenticity counts, I think you'll find.

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Re: Part of the process@Dave 126

>- the only complication is scaling the pattern to allow for the shrinkage of different metals in casting.

Moulding simulation and design software has been around for a while... it'l cost you, though!

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Re: Part of the process

As it happens they can print sand moulds.

Both Zcorp and Eos offer systems offer systems that will do just that.

As I'm unable to at links here I can provide you with web pages but a simple google search "zcorp sand" or "Eos sand casting" will give you the info you're missing.

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Re: Part of the process

"I've heard of people printing in wax."

So, you are a good way through the investment casting ('lost wax' casting) process. I see a business for foundries taking the wax original or the ceramic shell built on the wax original and doing the molten metal pour for reasonable prices.

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Re: Part of the process

Yes, already done. I have seen various ones on YouTube. It prints the sand mould layer by layer into a box, so can be far more intricate than a traditional wooden pattern, and you do not need to split the mould to remove it.

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Re: Part of the process

You don't split a sand mould. You smash it.

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Stop

Re: Part of the process

Hmm... there's no need to go with all that complexity - apparently the US Army were experimenting with a 3D metal printing process using powdered metal and laser sintering back in the 90s to produce tank parts. There are already metal 3d printers that work in a range of metals up to and including stainless steel.

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Re: Part of the process

>Hmm... there's no need to go with all that complexity

A wax-printing desktop machine (a few hundred dollars), plus the kit required to cast aluminium is with the reach of anyone who wants it. A selective laser sintering machine? I wish!

Someone might be able to reformulate 'silver clay' for use in small 3D printers - silver particles suspended in a clay-like binder, which after the sculptor has created their desired form is placed in the kiln. It produces something like 95%+ solid metal part after firing.

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Re: Part of the process

The matter of using other materials than PLA or ABS filament in 3D-printers lies not with the printers as such, but with being able to fit the right extruder. One that weighs several hundred grams wouldn't combine well with a printer that uses a moving head, unless the stuff can be fed through a hose, with a small enough regulator right at the print nozzle controlling the flow rate. For 'silver clay' it looks to me as being quite possible.

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