When people say "3D printing" they commonly mean one of two things: FDM printing, which turns a plastic filament into something that can be squirted out of a nozzle; or one of multiple sintering processes, by which a machine uses lasers to fuse parts together out of metal powder. Plastic is not strong but it's affordable. Metal is strong but it's expensive, and the metal powders can reportedly provide a health threat to the operator.
Zack Vader, who was then an 18-year-old student at the University of Buffalo, conceived of a 3D printer that would offer the best of both worlds. Five years later he and his mechanical engineer father have succeeded in creating it. Vader Systems' MK1 Experimental machine can take inexpensive aluminum wire and, using the Vaders' patented MagnetoJet technology, extrude it in liquefied form through a nozzle.
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The MK1 Experimental can 3D print at twice the speed of a powder bed machine and offers a shocking 90% reduction in the cost of producing parts. Here Zack and father Scott explain how the machine works, show you what it can do and explain how they pulled it off:
This is no mere concept; the Vaders have won grants to develop the technology, have three advisors from the U. of B., have hired three mechanical engineers and are currently gearing up for production of the MK1 at a factory in nearby Getzville. They have attracted interest from the automotive supply industry, and the U. of B. reports that there are medical applications as well:
Ciprian N. Ionita, PhD, a research assistant professor in the Biomedical Engineering Department — a joint effort of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB — foresees the Vader Systems printer ultimately printing out custom stents and other surgical devices right in the hospital.
"This is a game changer," he said. The metal powder used in the current metal printing processes is a contaminant that is difficult to clean up and can be toxic inside the body.
The Vader printer also will be valuable making custom knee and hip replacements, he said.
The Vaders' plan is to advance the technology so that it can print from copper and bronze wire as well. You can learn more about the machines, which will start rolling off of the assembly line in 2018, here.