Sunday, July 14, 2013

liquid metal 3D Printer Shapeways3d printing is a new and exciting field in the world of design.  It has become an incredible tool for creating the relics bound within our imaginations and gives us a way to give them tangibility.  3d printing and rendering has come a long way since my professors’ education in the nineties where CAD was a complex programming software that you had to grapple with, let alone the cost of materials. Now our fortunate generation is the one with technology at our fingertips.  We have several different auto CAD programs at our mercy that we wield to create objects from a long list of very cost effective materials that our fore fathers of the CAD-iverse did not have.  It even has come to the point that I know several people with their own personal 3d printer and I myself plan to get one.  A few years ago the tech nerd would drop a small fortune on a maker-bot that they would assemble themselves, and that maker-bot would take several hours to heat abs nylon through a tube to create your object.  Now we have small 3d printers available for around $2000 that can print in multiple materials quickly and more efficiently than its maker-bot predecessor.   It’s incredibly the leaps and bounds that the 3d printing realm has taken in the last few years.

Here I have linked a video of one of the latest feats our generation has opened up to the world of 3d printing. Printing liquid metal, developed by a team at North Carolina University, they have found a way to oxidize the surface of a small bead of liquid metal to stabilize it enough so that it can remain in liquid form to create malleable liquid metal structures.  We are very used to heating polymer materials that quickly cool into non-malleable structures when taken away from its heat source.  Here we have a material that stays liquid in room temperature allowing further manipulation which can lead to huge leaps and bounds for the technology field when it comes to computer parts, wires, connectors, electrodes, etc.   Anyone who has worked with metal knows that metal, to become liquid, needs intense heat typically from a torch, and it does not stay liquid when that heat source is removed.  It cools far too quickly, but this technique finds a way around that reality.  From what I understand the metal they have chosen to work with is gallium.  It is a very soft metal that does not appear in nature.  

Gallium has a very low melting point, just above room temperature.  It has been reported that if the element is held long enough it will melt in your hand.  I know it seems less impressive using such a soft malleable metal for this technique, but the metal does have the conductivity needed for electronics and it could lead to new ways of printing with precious metals down the road.  I look forward to where this will lead printing with metals since we typically tend to focus on printing with polymers.