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Techie News | April 24, 2014

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Affordable 3D metal printer developed, opensourced

Affordable 3D metal printer developed, opensourced
Ravi Mandalia

Researchers have developed and opensourced a low-cost 3D metal printer capable of printing metal tools and objects with cost under £1,000.

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Joshua Pearce at the Michigan Technological University developed the firmware and the plans for the printer and have made it available freely to anyone interested in taking this further. Built with cost of just £913, the open source 3D printer is definitely a huge leap forward as the starting price of commercial counterparts is £300,000.

Pearce claimed that their technology will not only allow smaller companies and startups to build inexpensive prototypes, but it will allow other scientists and researchers to build tools and objects required for their research without requiring to shell out thousands. The associate professor also claimed that using the technology, countries can use it to print components and parts for machines such as windmills.

The researchers are optimistic that their 3D metal printer would witness the same level of innovation which the first RepRap plastic 3D printers garnered after it was opensourced. “I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it,” said Pearce.

“Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it”, he added.

However, the 3D metal printer requires the use of extensive protective gear while operating and hence is not suitable for every household in its current state.

  • Grey Pigz ?

    Now we can have proper x-ray detectable 3D metal guns!

  • karmashock

    Love these guys. This is how we make the future happen. Can’t wait until 3d printers become a significant portion of all fabrication.

  • Grey Pigz ?

    The true future is when a 3D printer can be used to print another 3D printer! It’s not Skynet yet but close to.

  • angryenglishman

    sad part about this it creates jobs but also destroys industry further , why buy from a shop if you can just print it, not a very good world in my opinion, more unemployed to come.

  • mtheumer

    The days of being statically employed are over. You need to be flexible and dynamic enough to change with the times. If you can’t keep up, you will be left behind.

  • Chris-Mouse

    3D printers may well destroy some manufacturing jobs, mostly in providing spare parts. If history is any guide, the new technology will end up providing even more jobs in the future. The automobile industry destroyed huge numbers of jobs in industries supporting horses, but then turned around and created even more jobs in industries supporting automobiles. This sort of pattern has happened over and over as new technologies have arrived.

  • Leif Burrow

    3d printed objects will never be anywhere near as cost-effective as mass-produced goods made through more traditional means. The awesome thing about 3d printing is you can make a one-off, for industry that means they can produce prototypes without having to tool up a production line. For hobbyists it means you can actually make a real world object out of the design from your head.

    Any company producing goods for sale (and jobs) is going to spend the money to build up a traditional production line which will cost much more than a 3d printer because once it begins production it will kick out so much faster, cheaper and better quality than a 3d printer would that there is really no comparison. For even the most extreme makers, most of the items in their homes will still be produced the traditional way.

    Jobs remain unaffected. The only way jobs would be effected is if the average person started producing most of their goods themselves at home. Can you imagine every metal item in your house being 3d printed by a welder? Think of how much electricity that would take!

  • Leif Burrow

    Yeah, I believed that too when I was in college studying computer science. I thought I would enjoy my times between temporary jobs as vacations!

    Then I graduated and was introduced to the real world. You know, the place where things such as staying insured matters. Where mortgage or rent bills don’t stop between semesters. Where savings rise and fall at the whims of stockmarket investors. I chose to find a ‘real’ ‘static’ job instead. I have no regrets.

    i do have friends who went the short term contractor route. Their lives are so stressful! They always seem to be looking for where that next paycheck is coming from. They are always super busy because everywhere they work, they are there because the company is in the middle of some huge project with a deadline.

    One thing I know, short of some sort of accident I will outlive them and be healthier. It just isn’t good to constantly be under that kind of stress.

  • Leif Burrow

    The only replacement parts that would make any sense to 3d print are custom jobs and really obscure stuff like parts for 100 y/o cars that only a few still exist. Anything produced in any kind of significant numbers can be produced cheaper and better by traditional means.

    Few companies produce that really obscure stuff anyway. Even if there IS money to be made, that’s not how business works these days. The question isn’t ‘can money be made’ doing something, it’s ‘can more money be made doing something else’. Any part producing jobs that will be replaced by 3d printers were few and far between plus weren’t going to last much longer anyway.

  • Sean Murphy

    So basically what you want is to merge this with the rep-rap, which is a 3d printer that prints all its plastic parts.

    Check back in a couple of years

  • Leif Burrow

    More likely there will be a collection of several types of 3d printers and other autmata which together can produce the different kinds of parts that each needs. Final assembly will be done by a human.

    Somebody might attach all the machines together plus add some kind of automated arm or something that does the final assembly but it will be a Rube Goldberg machine, way overly complicated and prone to break down. It’s only purpose will be to say ‘I did it!’.

  • Clay Dowling

    This is what I’ve always wanted from 3D printing. It can print usable machine parts and tools, which is great for prototyping.

  • Grey Pigz ?

    If i’m going to waste my time and money printing something, it might as well be another 3D printer!

  • Chris-Mouse

    The cost of mass produced items is far lower than the cost of 3D printing. But when you factor in the convenience, most people would rather pay 50 cents to make a part instead of having to track down the dealer and drive over to pick up a 25 cent part.
    Right now, 3D printing is about where 2D computer printing was in the early 80′s; they’re expensive, and not really very good. I expect 3D printing to improve at least as rapidly as 2D printing did. Right now, 3D printers are a hobbyist’s toy. A decade from now they’ll be a high end consumer item, and 20 years from now they’ll be everywhere, will cost under $500, and the print quality will rival current standards for cheap injection molding.

  • ThomasDanielFrain

    Leif, cost-effective depends on which costs you’re talking about.

    When you have a machine stop working because a part fails, you may be easily able to get the part from a manufacturer or distributor.

    Figure out the part number, call or email the manufacturer and have them send one to you. Unless they have 24/7 phone/email support, it will be sometime the next business day that you get a response. You can order the part, arrange shipping, wait for it to be installed & tested, and put the machine back to work.if you’re lucky, it will be offline only a few days.

    What if you have a hundred or more people needing the output of THAT machine to do their jobs? Do they stand around & wait, on the clock, for the part to come in?

    How about the next shift, or the next? You may lose several days production waiting for that part, and the workers will lose pay.

    What if the machine that breaks is life critical for one or more persons and they are unable to breathe, say, or cleanse their blood?

    Being able to make parts on site, in a hurry, looks a bit less optional, doesn’t it?

  • mtheumer

    It’s not just being geologically static, but constantly developing ones knowledge-base. Advancing with technology.

  • Leif Burrow

    @ThomasDanielFrain:disqus

    You make some excelent points as to the potential value of ubiquitous 3d printing. I do not disagree with you and am actually very interested in owning a 3d printer of my own some day.

    The context however in which I left my comment was that several people were making gloom and doom predictions that 3D printing will eliminate maunfacturing jobs. That is why I even talked about jobs in my comment.

    Within the limited circumstances that you mentioned 3d printing certainly are the cost-effective option. My point is that for the vast majority of manufacturing 3d printing will not be the more cost-effective option.

    Today if you walk into a store and grab a random bunch of plastic objects odds are most if not all were made through some form of injection molding. If you look at the plastic parts in a car.. same thing. I could go on.

    I don’t think this is going to change because in any one moment a 3d printer is very carefully squirtig plastic to print one tiny spot of a part. An injection mold machine is squirting out the whole thing to fill a mold almost instantly. No amount of development and optimization is going to change that. It is fundamental what the devices do. This means that 3d printers will always be slower, less energy efficient and it will be more difficult to achieve reliability than traditional manufacturing.

    I’m not as knowlegable about how metal objects are made but I am pretty sure that similar concepts will apply. Most metal objects that I see around me are made from bending and cutting sheet metal and wire. I can’t imagine a 3d printing process being more efficient than that!

    But… for certain situations like you mentioned as well as rapid prototyping (what 3d printing was originally invented to do) and for giving a home hobbyist the ability to design and make stuff in just about any shape… 3d printing is awesome!

    It just isn’t the future job-killing armagedon that some over-imaginitive people believe it to be.

  • Leif Burrow

    Among people who would read an article about a 3d metal printer on a website called techinews you are probably right. Yes, I would rather pay the 50 cents to print the part myself… more acurately I would pay the 50 cents to have my part today as opposed to waiting for someone to ship it to me because hardly any parts are availble in stores anymore!

    Look around though. A scary number of people don’t even own a screwdriver or a hammer. Desktops are being dropped for iPhones.

    It’s sad but most people aren’t going to buy or print a part. They are going to throw away the device that uses the broken part, or more likely throw it away before the part even breaks and buy a shiny new mass-produced device instead.

    3d printing isn’t going to destroy many if any manufacturing jobs, not even in replacement parts because that replacement part market was dead to begin with.

  • Rory

    But what if things were not in terms of cost, but in terms of resource consumption. would it be the efficient to produce 1 car for every person on earth who wants one, or more sense to produce only the amount that can logically fit on a system of roads and share each one for the use of traveling/per person.

  • Noel ‘n Bev Petzer

    Given that mass manufactured goods will always be cheaper than individual printed goods … (that sounds reasonable, but is it true?)

    I think it could increase job opportunities for the following reasons :-

    1) It makes it easier and cheaper for ANYONE to design and test a prototype. Making the cycle from invention to market quicker, plus creates opportunities for more inventors and inventions.
    2) It has the potential to be able to produce ‘emergency’ parts in manufacturing lines, thereby making job opportunities for on site engineers. eg A part breaks in your manufacturing line, you can download and produce the part on site, thereby limiting downtime and increasing productivity.
    3) It decreases costs of inventory, ie instead of a company having to keep crucial parts need for their manufacturing lines on site, they can simple produce the parts when needed.

    All of the above lends itself to increased productivity, lower costs and the employment of more on site specialists.

  • George Kong

    the problem is that retailers and manufactures are not passing the cost savings and profit onto the consumer.

    added to that taxation increases the cost.

    one may as well make it at home. even though it is cheaper and better quality at the factory the cost is higher to the CONSUMER to buy the product with all those layers of regulations built on top of it

    3d printing is a rebellion against that type of ideal. leeches cannot leech the way they do anymore then.

    you could say it is like bitcoins/litecoins where they are rebelling against the central banking system.

    decentralization of the manufacturing process is in my opinion a MUST to move forward with technology and innovation as corrupt governments are trying hard to hold innovation and progress back.

    yes many will lose jobs but they can create anything they want now cheaply and efficiently by passing all barriers.

    wages/money is only worth what you can trade for it. if you can create it then you need less wages.

    the true evil that needs to be dealt with is cheap housing for the poor but governments control the land and housing so it is hard to rebel against high rent and property values/taxes
    high property values is actually a BAD thing.

    it means more taxation and higher rents when people cannot afford them already as a result they go homeless. or have to go deep into debt for life.

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