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Basement-Invented Liquid Metal 3D Printer Grabs Spotlight

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Innovation that starts at the grassroots level has the greatest potential for achieving soaring heights.

So the script looks for the story of an American father-and-son team that’s invented a revolutionary printing machine that can print 3D objects with liquid metal.

The ability to print metal is the holy grail of the still-emerging 3D printing scene. While a scattering of upstarts makes claims on this front, none has yet devised a reliable tool for achieving it. Most metal printers lay down powdered metal and melt it with a laser or electron beam. The process is inefficient and inconsistent, and the metal parts it produces are riddled with weak spots. Further, the metal powder used in these printing processes is a contaminant that’s difficult to clean up and can be toxic inside the body, limiting its applications for medical purposes, such as knee and hip replacements.

But necessity births invention, and so it was with this most recent miracle, which came to be five years ago when then 19-year-old engineering student Zack Vader couldn’t find the 3D parts he needed for a microturbine generator project. The only solution, he decided? He would make them himself.

The foundations of the metal printer Vader and his dad concocted in their basement, whose defining distinction is its ability to eject droplets of liquid metal from a nozzle, much like a drop-on-demand inkjet printer does, may well revolutionize the manufacturing process.

Indeed, the industry at large has caught wind of this novelty, and an automotive parts manufacturer has expressed an interest in buying the machines in bulk.

Edward P. Furlani, a chemical and biological engineering and electrical engineering professor at the University of Buffalo—with whom the Zaders have partnered in this project—calls the technology “transformative.”

As the Vaders continue to perfect their printer (they have plans to speed up its printing abilities with the addition of a nozzle), they will expand their operation into an assembly-line manufacturing facility.

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