It was predicted years ago and now it’s happened: a desktop metal 3D printer. Not a desktop 3D printer with a metal frame but a desktop 3D printer that prints in metal.
The Additec μPrinter can work with conventional metal powders as well as metal wire, which is much more affordable and safer to handle. Additec’s patented LMD-WP (Laser Metal Deposition-Wire Powder) Process is a form of direct energy deposition (DED) where a powerful laser melts a jetted stream of metal powder as it makes contact with the surface of the part, building up with repetitive layers.In the Additec μPrinter, that’s three 200-watt diode lasers that focus their beams to create the melt pool; a five-laser, 1,000-watt upgrade is also available. Metal wire is fed through a central guide and metal powder is jetted through an annular gap nozzle around the wire guide, and it’s possible to switch between the different feedstocks mid-print without having to change the nozzle. Wire metal deposition is not common, so Additec created their own control system that actively monitors layer height and adjusts parameters on the fly to maintain dimensionality.
And while the machine is desktop-sized, it is not desktop-priced, starting at $90,000 before tax, shipping, and VAT. Sadly, it just isn’t yet possible to include all the necessary features to make a metal 3D printer safe to operate AND make it affordable for makers. With time, costs will decrease, but not as quickly as with plastic 3D printers. As with glass 3D printing, metal 3D printing requires a tightly controlled environment that can’t be cheaply produced. Yet.