There’s no shortage of buzz around 3D printing these days, but a special shout-out is called for to recognize the particularly revolutionary work being done in the arm of that technology that deals with printing metals.
To wit: a Taiwanese research institute that has just unveiled the world’s first metal 3D printing system.
The National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, whose efforts were financially supported by Taiwan’s ministries of economic affairs and national defence, is poised to explode the conventional limitations that hold back the traditional manufacturing process, such as time required to create metal components and the relative quality thereof.
To start, it has earmarked the printer for applications in the aerospace and defence industries. Specifically, the Taiwanese government foresees manufacturing parts for the country’s ageing military equipment and submarines that are no longer available thanks to their original manufacturers having ceased production. Using injection moulding to manufacture mere handfuls of extinct parts is prohibitively expensive; this offers an alternative.
The printer is a 250 mm x 250 mm metal AM system that includes an independent 500 W laser. It can produce materials boasting tensile strengths of up to 1,100 megapascals, yield strengths of 950 megapascals, and hardnesses that exceed 30 HRC. Indeed, so impressive are the characteristics of the materials produced with this equipment that they meet aerospace material standards.
If approved by the United States Federal Aviation Administration, objects produced with this printer could be used in aircraft.
The institute, Taiwan’s primary weapons research and development centre, started work on the 3D metal printer in 2014.