In the age of 3D printing, it has been a struggle to develop an affordable and practical metal 3D printer. Now, researchers may have just succeeded in doing so. 

Practical and affordable 3D printers are certainly no new thing. It is now possible to 3D print anything from guns to cars. However, although 3D printing plastics and other malleable materials have been mastered, developing an easy and affordable method of 3D printing metal has been a challenge.

Recently, however, a team of researchers from Yale University and Desktop Metal, Inc. has succeeded in developing an affordable and practical metal 3D printer by utilizing bulk metallic glass materials (BMGs). BMGs are a type of material that shares the characteristics of most metals but are far more malleable and easy to work with.

Unlike most metals, bulk metallic glasses are able to be super-cooled into a liquid thanks to their thermodynamic profile. They are also able to undergo continuous softening upon heating—a property that is present in thermoplastics, but not in most metals.

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Prof. Schroers, a lead researcher on the project, commented that:

“We have shown theoretically in this work that we can use a range of other bulk metallic glasses and are working on making the process more practical and commercially-usable to make 3-D printing of metals as easy and practical as the 3-D printing of thermoplastics,”

By utilizing the properties of BMGs, the team was able to develop a metal 3D printer that can shape and create complex metal structures in a practical and efficient manner.

Although other metal 3D printers have previously been developed, they rely on a form of additive manufacturing that is costly and not feasible in a commercial setting. By using BMGs, the research team has been able to side-step this issue and create a more practical method of metal 3D printing.

Although the future of this method is promising, Prof. Schroers did comment that BMG materials and their manufacturing process will have to be researched more and proven to be commercially scalable before the project can be further developed.

If you had a domestic metal 3D printer, what would you create? 

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