While 3D printing is still a technology that is new to most engineers, it has been making large leaps forward within recent years. Costs are finally beginning to drop, a variety of printers are available, and printing quality is getting better. Now, different types of materials -- most notably metals -- are beginning to become available to print.
The MX3D-Metal printer is an industrial-sized robot that looks like something one would find on an assembly line. It was designed at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), where students Petr Novikov and Sasa Jokic have been building upon last year's similar 3D printing bot, the MX3D-Resin. However, rather than having a common plastic extruding head on the end of the robot, this bot features a head that can print metals.
The MX3D-Metal printer uses a welding technique to create freestanding structures.
Unlike many of the 3D printers available, the MX3D printers can work around a part rather than building it straight up. Using such techniques, the printer can print objects on surfaces with angles and slopes or even directly onto walls. In addition, it can print curves and shapes with much more precision and accuracy. The extruder head deposits small amounts of molten metal when printing, which hardens almost immediately after exiting and making contact with the air. Also, since the bot needs no dedicated printing bed, it can print very large structures.
Currently, a combination of different software is used to get the bot to print correctly. The next step for the team is creating a user interface, which would allow everyday users to easily use the bot.
Although there have already been a few printers that can print metals, the technique the new MX3D bot uses can help redefine 3D printing. Larger structures and industrial production areas can benefit from 3D printers of this form, possibly adding them into an assembly line process. Also, the team has noted that, by criss-crossing shapes, stronger and more durable structures can be made. With 3D printing beginning to gain the attention of the world, the MX3D-Metal may very possibly be the future of 3D printing.