MIT researchers have developed a fast 3D printing technique that it uses liquid metal and enables extremely fast printing. This process can produce large aluminum components in minutes, while many previously existing techniques would take hours to complete the same design. This technology has already been used to make table legs, chair frames and similar furniture parts.
The technology is called liquid metal printing (LMP) and consists of directing molten aluminum along a predefined path into a bed of tiny glass beads. These balls harden quickly and form a 3D structure. Researchers say that the new process is at least ten times faster than comparable metal fabrication techniques.
However, there is one major caveat. This process it sacrifices resolution in favor of speed and range. Therefore, the researchers used it to create low-resolution objects such as chair legs, rather than, for example, complex parts with complex geometry. MIT researchers say that this trade-off is a technology still useful for creating “parts of larger structures” that do not require extremely fine detail. This includes the furniture parts mentioned above, but also components for construction and industrial design.
Despite the reduction in resolution, they are parts made with LMP are still durable and can withstand subsequent machining after printing (for example drilling). The people behind the technology say the structures are far more durable than those made using wire arc additive manufacturing, an already existing metal printing method. This is because LMP keeps the material molten throughout the process, reducing the likelihood of cracks and deformations.
It is also worth noting that this printing method does not require aluminum. It can also work with other metals. The researchers chose aluminum because of its popularity in construction and the fact that it is easily recyclable.