Here at 3D Rapid Print, one of the fastest growing 3D Printing companies in the Thames Valley, we like to keep abreast of the latest innovations in 3D printing.

On February 13th 2020, self-appointed “leading manufacturer of metal and carbon fiber 3D printersMarkforged of Watertown, Massachusetts announced the release of pure copper for its Metal X 3D printer, describing it as “the only reliable, affordable, and safe way to 3D print the widely used material.” Markforged founder and CEO Greg Mark argues that copper is expensive and difficult to machine, and that pure copper cannot be 3D printed with via conventional means. (This would be with powdered copper and selective laser melting.) This is due to its high thermal conductivity, meaning that it reflects the energy from the lasers used to 3D print with it.

Markforged found a way around the problem by changing how to configure and heat the powdered copper. Instead of using selective laser melting, the object can be 3D printed out of powdered copper wrapped in plastic via fused deposition modelling, melting the plastic and not the copper. This can then be burned in a furnace to get rid of the plastic and sinter the copper together. (The word sinter can be defined as “to cause to become a coherent mass by heating without melting.”)

Mark argues that automakers should particularly avail themselves of the new technology, citing the example of 3D printing copper welding shanks used to spot weld vehicle body parts. (The term spot welding can be defined as “Welding of overlapping pieces of metal at small points by application of great pressure and electric current.”) He claims that most large auto manufacturing plants might stock up to $1 million in spare shanks bought from outside suppliers.

One of Markforged’s customers partnered with them to do some welding tests with Markforged’s 3D printed copper. (For reasons unknown the mystery customer wasn’t named, and only referred to as “a well-known automotive manufacturer.”) Thousands of welds later, it was concluded the copper welds had the same “resistance” as conventionally made spot-welding shanks. (Markforged’s press release did not properly define its use of the word “resistance.”)

In addition, the mystery customer proclaimed that Markforged’s 3D printing technology had led to a 12-fold reduction in part lead times and a 6-fold reduction in part costs; they also intend to extend their use of 3D printed parts to the production line. (The term lead time can be defined as “The amount of time between the initiation of some process and its completion, e.g. the time required to manufacture or procure a product; the time required before something can be provided or delivered.”) Their maintenance manager declared that they expect to save $200,000 a year on inventory costs by using just 1 Metal X system.

3D printing is an amazing tool. It can grow your small business or start a mini revolution in an industry. Explore what it can do for you when you contact us today.

Disclaimer: Featured image of “Copper Foundry at the Falun Mine (Pehr Hilleström d.ä.) – Nationalmuseum – 23796” is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art placed into the public domain by its author. The author of the work of art itself died in 1816, ergo it is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or less. Nonetheless, the original work of art is attributed to Pehr Hilleström (1732-1816) and the featured image is attributed to Erik Cornelius and the National Museum of Sweden.