It's important enough as it is.
Regular readers will recall that I did a story on the first 3D printed metal 1911 from Solid Concepts back in November '13 when that story broke, and I've been following developments with printing metal since then. That printer was a rather expensive industrial level printer based on the concept of Direct Metal Laser Sintering, which uses a bed of powdered metal and then uses a laser to very precisely heat and fuse the powder into usable metal. The motion of the laser creates solid metal in the powder and grows the part layer by layer. Even with that cost barrier to adoption, metal printing has grown to have a big impact, particularly in aerospace.
The story here is an entirely new way of 3D metal printing, printing molten metal itself, in the form of precisely controlled droplets of molten metal that solidify as the metal is laid down.
Five years ago, Zachary Vader was a 19 year old student at the University at Buffalo (NY). Realizing that the really fun and interesting parts of engineering school wouldn't come until his fourth year, he worked on other projects. He designed a micro-gas turbine generator and soon came to the conclusion that it would be too expensive to produce. That led him to decide to that 3D Metal Printing was the key to getting costs down. Zach had a resource that it's arguable nobody else would have: his father, Scott. Scott happened to be a pioneer in 3D printing fiberglass and was familiar with how 3D printers work. Scott had the idea of using molten metal and controlling the droplets much like an inkjet printer. The metal would be controlled by magnetic fields, a field known as Magneto Hydro Dynamics, or MHD. Zach and Scott formed Vader Systems, basically a family company.
From Design News:
The breakthrough in Zachary’s invention came when he thought to expose molten metal in a confined chamber with an orifice to a pulsed magnetic field, the Vaders said. The transient field induces a pressure with the metal that ejects a droplet, which was the key to making droplets of liquid metal eject from a nozzle.Vader Systems is promoting their "Mark I" version, saying "Production in 2018", so it's still under development. The prints look like they could stand quite a bit of finishing, but I'm not sure that's their emphasis. Still, they quote some impressive stats that they say it will make. The fact that they can print one pound of aluminum per hour at a "90% cost reduction" compared to laser sintering is the kind of quantum leap 3D metal printing needs.
Now Vader Systems is producing and marketing the machine Zachary invented, with the younger Vader serving as CTO of the company. Scott Vader is CEO while Zachary’s mother, Pat Roche, is the company controller.
The machine represents a major leap forward in the ability to print 3D objects in metal, according to University at Buffalo engineers. While other metal printers exist, most use a process of laying down powered metal and melting it with a laser or electron beam. This process is flawed because some particles of the powder do not get melted, creating weakened spots.
In the Vader Systems machine, called the Mk1, an electrically pulsed magnetic field permeates liquid metal in an ejection chamber and creates circulating electrical currents that interact with the magnetic field to produce a pressure that squeezes a droplet out of the ejector nozzle.
Build envelopeVader Systems seems to be a mix of the startup and University at Buffalo researchers, which will very likely get them to market faster than just the father and son team could make it.
12” x 12” x 12”
(300 mm x 300 mm x 300 mm)
Aluminum and its alloys
(4043, 6061, 7075)
200 to 500 micron
1 lb per hour based on 500 micron droplet size
Speed vs Powder Bed Fusion
Part cost vs Powder Bed Fusion
The Vaders have secured UB engineering faculty and students to work closely with them. Scott Vader reached out to the university after he and Zachary already were working on the invention in the basement of their home. Now the company has three faculty advisors and have won grants from UB’s Center for Industrial Effectiveness and Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology, as well as and a National Grid grant through UB to further develop and promote their technology.
Vader Systems also has hired several engineers based on its connections to UB, is looking to hire more, and is currently setting up its production facility and business infrastructure in Getzville, N.Y., near Buffalo, Vader said. “Additionally, we’re establishing strategic partnerships and working with our early customers to deliver our first systems,” he said.
The current home printers that work in plastics are said to be quite a bit higher quality than the early printers from ten or even five years ago. I suspect we're going to see metal printing go through a similar improvement ramp in the next few years.