3D Printing with liquid metals

Kudos to the team at North Carolina State University (and the National Science Foundation for sponsoring the research) for coming up with an interesting paper and an entertaining video on 3D printing with liquid metals.

The build up of the finished part is occurring through depositing of small drops of binary eutectic alloy of gallium and indium (EGaIn, 75% Ga 25% In by weight) which is conductive and liquid at room temperature (slightly below, actually ∼15.7°C) . The 3D printer is essentially a microscope positioning stage with a third axis attached, which is carrying a syringe with the liquid alloy. The alloy is being deposited through a needle approx 250um in diameter.

Each droplet is coalescing into a sphere due to surface tension and each is quickly forming a thin protective layer (only about 1nm ) of passivating skin composed of Gallium oxide.

Be sure to check out the video for the samples of the shapes that can be printed with this technique. This is an early development stage yet and I’m sure we’ll see more interesting results come out soon. Some of the improvements that are in works have to do with devising ways to prevent the spherical droplets from further coalescing into larger diameter spheres instead of staying where they’ve been deposited.

3D-printed microstructure build with liquid metal

3D-printed microstructure build with liquid metal

No less intriguing are the 2D applications of the same technology – the droplets can be stretched into thin wires from 30 to 200um in diameter to build electronic circuits using CNC positioning of the depositing syringe.

Check out the 3D Printing of Free Standing Liquid Metal Microstructures paper  for more details on the fascinating new technology.

On a personal note: I had no idea how affordable indium and gallium are (in quantities needed for a DIY lab, of course) – they are about $1 / gram each and eBay is full of offers. Definitely something within the reach of an adventurous DIY 3D printing enthusiast! 🙂

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What would *you* 3D print if you had an easy access to a 3D printer?

3D-printed Business Card

3D-printed Business Card

I thought this was an interesting and fun intersection of what people usually think of when they use the word “printing” with 3D printing which is not really a printing so much as it is “additive manufacturing”

The 3D printed business card idea came courtesy of Instructables   today. Is it practical? I cannot really say. Some people may even find it pretentious – who knows. But the fact that the  author – Instructables user ericm160 – came up with the idea speaks volumes about the fact that 3D printing is on the back of people’s minds when they consider objects normally created by absolutely different technologies.

I think that some kind of utility would have to be added for this type of 3D printed business  cards to be accepted by a “normal” (i.e. not a hardcore 3D printing enthusiast) person. Like ability to fold and create a holder for other business cards? Not sure but it looks like it needs to be able to do something a traditional paper card can’t do – and that’s where 3D printing technology really shines!

So, I’m sure we’ll see more of everyday objects take on some unusual functions when they are made by using 3D printing instead of the traditional methods

3D Printing and Online Communities

Local 3D printing communities are a great idea! I have used Shapeways before and their quality is outstanding but there’s something sterile and asocial(not anti-, just a-) about sending a 3D model to a site and just getting a couple of emails and the part 2 weeks later (unless you are in the Netherlands – then I would guess it’s quicker).

The guys at Memamsaa Blog (someone took Sanskrit 101 in college! 🙂 ) posted a link to MakeXYZ –  – a community that brings 3D printer owners together with people needed 3D models printed – what a great idea! I think Memamsaa guys are absolutely correct in thinking this will spur the growth of 3D printing, and perhaps not only because access to 3D printer will be easier. I look at it from the stand point of a 3D printer owner, too: your (still expensive these days) machine is actually standing doing nothing. If you can recoup some cost by printing for other people, you may be able to afford 3D printer upgrades (dual extruders etc.) and perhaps even a better printer thus adding to not only availability per se but also the quality of 3D printing industry.

More people print -> more people buy better printers -> more R&D done on 3D printing -> 3D printing becomes cheaper -> more people print. Looks like a very nice positive feedback loop here we’re all going to benefit from.

 

Thanks for the tip, Memamsaa!
P.S. Memamsaa – a Sanskrit for R&D?

Memamsaa

Continuing the theme of finding innovation at intersections, this post takes a deeper look at the exponential growth of 3D printing services and the role of software and online user communities in driving this growth.

3D printing is becoming more than just a hardware phenomenon. The drop in prices and consumerization of the hardware, i.e. the printers, has certainly made the technology more accessible to the masses. But it the software ecosystem developing around 3D printing, fuelled by web, social, cloud and even mobile technologies, which has created the tipping point causing this technology to take-off. Author of an IBM research paper on this topic, Paul Brody states, “Not only are people collaborating around designs, they are sharing their printers as well, rapidly expanding public access to this technology.”

Who are some of the key players enabling this collaboration and sharing?

Thingiverse is a popular online design sharing community…

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YouTube 3D printing Channel

Fabbster 3D printer by Sintermask

Fabbster 3D printer by Sintermask

 

I don’t know about you but I get mesmerized watching 3D parts come to life in a 3D printer. I can literally stand next to a 3D printer for a very long time (have done that on occasion) and admire the sight of a part taking shape.

So, I think it’s safe to assume I am not obsessing about 3D printers alone and so I started a YouTube channel not long ago where I catalog interesting videos  I find featuring 3D printing of any kind. So, here goes! Enjoy the show!