Metal 3D Printing Gets Really Fast (and Really Ugly)

The secret to cranking out a furniture-sized metal frame in minutes is Liquid Metal Printing (LMP), demonstrated by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They’ve demonstrated printing aluminum frames for tables and chairs, which are perfectly solid and able to withstand post-processing like drilling and milling.

The system heats aluminum in a graphite crucible, and the molten metal is gravity-fed through a ceramic nozzle and deposited into a bed of tiny 100-micron glass beads. The beads act as both print bed and support structure, allowing the metal to cool quickly without really affecting the surface. Molten aluminum is a harsh material to work with, so both the ceramic nozzle material and the glass beads to fill the print bed were selected after a lot of testing.

This printing method is fast and scalable, but sacrifices resolution. Ideally, the team would love to make a system capable of melting down recycled aluminum to print parts with. That would really be something new and interesting when it comes to manufacturing.

The look of the printed metal honestly reminds us a little of CandyFab from [Windell Oskay] and [Lenore Edman] at Evil Mad Scientist, which was a 3D printer before hobbyist 3D printers or kits were really a thing. CandyFab worked differently — it used hot air to melt sugar together one layer at a time — but the end result has a similar sort of look to it. Might not be pretty, but hey, looks aren’t everything.

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