Copper 3D Printing- An Overview
Pure copper and space-age copper alloys can be effectively utilized in 3D printing using various metal 3D printers and services. The exceptional conductivity of heat and electricity makes pure copper a distinctive and valuable metal for 3D printing applications.
Copper has emerged as a rapidly advancing frontier in the realm of metal 3D printing, finding applications across diverse sectors ranging from electric motors to heatsinks.
Overcoming historical challenges associated with the reflective nature and high thermal conductivity of copper, recent strides in both printer technology and materials have effectively addressed these obstacles. The contemporary landscape witnesses the deployment of 3D-printed copper propulsion systems propelling rockets into space, intricately crafted heatsinks ensuring optimal CPU cooling, and precisely engineered copper coils enhancing the performance of electric motors.
The significance of copper extends beyond technological innovation, playing a pivotal role in achieving global sustainability goals. As an integral component in electric motors, charging infrastructure, solar power, and batteries, copper stands at the forefront of key advancements. A 2022 study conducted by S&P Global forecasts a nearly twofold increase in worldwide copper demand over the next decade, intensifying concerns regarding the sustainable sourcing of this vital mineral.
Why 3D Print With Copper?
Copper stands out as an exceptionally versatile metal, prized for its remarkable heat and electricity conductivity, corrosion resistance, and antimicrobial properties. The advent of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has propelled copper into new realms of utility, fostering increased demand for intricate copper components.
The unique capabilities of 3D printing empower the creation of highly complex shapes, intricate details, internal structures, and lattice infills previously unattainable through traditional metal manufacturing methods. This not only results in reduced weight and heightened efficiency but also slashes manufacturing and assembly timelines. A noteworthy advantage of 3D printing lies in its ability to utilize less raw material, minimizing waste when compared to alternative manufacturing approaches. Moreover, the technology allows for the production of multi-part assemblies as a unified entity, further optimizing efficiency and curbing raw material consumption — a pivotal consideration for businesses delving into 3D copper printing.
For those currently engaged in crafting bespoke copper parts, the integration of 3D printing offers a game-changing prospect to substantially decrease production costs while enhancing the overall performance of the components. An additional boon comes in the form of swiftly generating prototype copper parts for testing, eliminating the need for the time-consuming and costly processes associated with mold making and tooling required in conventional metal manufacturing methodologies. The allure of 3D copper printing extends beyond mere cost reduction; it represents a transformative leap towards streamlined production and unparalleled design flexibility in the realm of copper fabrication.
3D Printing- Sourcing Copper Material
Understanding the composition of raw copper or copper alloy materials is crucial when considering 3D printing costs. It's important to be aware of the options available, especially since the type of metal powder used significantly impacts expenses. Some 3D printers are exclusively designed for proprietary metal powders provided by the printer supplier. While alternative powders might work, they may not have been tested on your specific machine, posing a costly and time-consuming risk as you experiment to perfect the print settings.
For printers operating as open systems, where users have the flexibility to choose their metal materials, there is still a trial-and-error process involved. It's essential to note that copper powder tailored for additive manufacturing undergoes a specific processing method, resulting in rounder particles compared to powders used in other metal manufacturing. Factors like low interstitial content and appropriate flowability are also crucial considerations.
Due to the challenges in fine-tuning printers for specific metal powders, many users prefer sticking to "approved" powders recommended by the manufacturer to avoid the upfront work.
Copper powders commonly utilized in laser powder bed fusion machines can also find application in other powder-based 3D printing processes, such as Directed Energy Deposition (DED), binder jetting, and cold spray.
Process for Copper 3D Printing
In the past, the mere contemplation of Copper 3D Printing used to evoke a sense of tension among experts. Despite recognizing the material's potential, the inability to leverage it effectively with the available manufacturing technology proved to be a source of frustration.
However, through extensive experimentation, as mentioned earlier, we have successfully devised a range of solutions for proficiently employing Copper in 3D printing. The challenges that once hindered its utilization have now been addressed, marking a significant stride forward in the field.
FDM 3D Printing
Copper 3D printing with Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) machines might initially seem impractical, but it is indeed achievable, albeit with certain limitations.
When utilizing FDM printers, the use of pure metal filament is not feasible. Instead, copper-infused filaments come into play.
Several companies provide such materials, incorporating a small percentage of metal powder into PLA material. Consequently, the resulting parts are not entirely composed of copper. They possess a slightly greater weight than typical plastic parts and showcase a metallic texture.
For those aiming for 100% copper in 3D printing using FDM machines, a viable option is the copper-infused filament offered by The Virtual Foundry (TVF). This filament has successfully pushed boundaries, achieving up to 90% metal in combination with PLA. However, it involves an additional step not required for other FDM-printed parts.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
Comparable to Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or powder bed fusion methods, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) employs powdered Copper material, fusing it together layer by layer using a laser source to achieve precise 3D models. This meticulous process involves depositing Copper powder sequentially, allowing the laser to carry out its function. Once the part is complete, excess powder removal is facilitated by compressed air within an enclosed chamber.
It's crucial to emphasize that 3D Printing through this method is not suitable for home use due to the requirement of expensive and bulky tools, similar to those utilized in sandblasting. Furthermore, caution must be exercised to prevent the inhalation of copper particles, which could lead to serious health issues.
As previously mentioned, the DMLS process comes with a substantial cost, with the machine alone priced at over $100,000. Typically, Copper 3D Printing using DMLS machines is exclusively intended for industrial applications. However, if you still desire to create parts through this process, consider utilizing an online 3D printing service of your choice.
Copper 3D printing represents a cutting-edge frontier in additive manufacturing, experiencing remarkable growth in recent years. Over the past few decades, the challenge of printing three-dimensional objects with copper seemed insurmountable due to the metal's inherent reflectivity and exceptional thermal conductivity, posing significant obstacles for conventional 3D printing technologies. However, recent advancements have revolutionized the landscape, overcoming these barriers and opening up exciting possibilities for the production of intricate copper-based structures. This breakthrough has not only expanded the scope of additive manufacturing but has also spurred innovation across various industries, unlocking new potentials for applications ranging from electronics to advanced engineering components. As this technology continues to evolve, the future of copper 3D printing holds promise for even more sophisticated and diverse creations, pushing the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible.