3D printing is booming and the progress of this ‘technology of the future’ is spectacular. It will soon be possible to print copper objects in mass production.
This innovative development is of interest to many sectors, from aerospace to luxury, to iron and steel. Copper is indeed an essential component for a large number of products, because of its physical properties as much as its aesthetics.
3D printing of copper will soon be possible thanks to a new technique developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute in Aachen (Germany).
How does it work?
This is a Selective Laser Melting technology (SLM) in which an infrared laser is replaced by a green laser. The advantage is that its light is better absorbed by copper and the metal melts easily.
The German institute is working on developing a green laser that is suitable for an SLM 3D printer, as no alternative solution is currently available on the market. Copper printing is a real opportunity for manufacturers, because this metal is both a strong electrical conductor, and is easily malleable.
While some have already managed to print with conventional additive manufacturing methods, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute argue that their technology, which will be presented at Formnext in November, is more accurate.
It would for example print exchangers and heat sinks. Parts perfectly adapted to additive manufacturing according to the researchers, because they have complex shapes and are manufactured in small quantities.
Opportunities for industry?
This is a real opportunity for the industry – an excellent electrical and thermal conductor, very malleable and the fact copper is used in many fields such as aeronautics, energy, iron and steel, cables and wires, tubes, profiles, sheets, plates the list goes on and on.
Recently, NASA engineers managed to build a copper rocket engine component through a 3D printer. However, more than ten days of melting were necessary but with a green laser, this production time would have been much less.
Kenza, Consultant, Leyton France