Since the moment last year when Joshua Pearce announced he and his team of scientists had built an open-source 3D metal printer for under $1,200, the race was essentially on to build a viable, affordable metal printer for the consumer market.
Pearce, a professor and materials engineer at Michigan Technological University, said at the time of the announcement that he hoped it would spur developers to take on the challenge of creating an affordable 3D printer for metals, and since then, a number of teams have done just that.
Among those contenders, Aurora Labs, an Australian team of engineers and developers, is now saying their S1 is "the first 3D metal printer that makes aerospace quality manufacturing available at a price that a homeowner or small workshop can afford."
According to the developers, while Pearce's machine is essentially a CNC controlled wire welder, the Aurora Labs machines are sophisticated devices that the average homeowner can use to make parts for cars, tools or even rocket motors from engineering-grade metals. The materials list includes 316 Stainless Steel, 420 Stainless Steel, Inconel 625, Inconel 718, Hastelloy C, Brass, Bronze and even humble Mild Steel.
Aurora says developing their technology involved a group of experts in materials science, software engineering, automation, robotics, mathematics, product design, surface engineering and physics.
"It's not all about making money. It's really about making an incredibly powerful tool and putting it in the hands of as many people as possible," said David Budge of Aurora Labs.
The first iteration of the printer, the S1, is set to feature a build area of roughly 6" x 6" x 8" inches and it will include a pair of powder feeders. The planned S2+ large bed printer will have a build area of 7" x 7" x 19.5".
As for materials costs, the metal powder price of 316 Stainless Steel is currently about $45 a kilogram and the team says that amount of powder can output some 0.9kg to 1.0kg worth of parts.
At a typical layer thickness of about 50 microns with a feature size of around 100 microns, the weld bead we can generate structures at an X/Y resolution of about 50 microns and depending on the size of the part, resolution, and density desired, the build speed of the S1 can create a small part in as little as 20 minutes with larger and more complex parts taking up to several days.
They add that excess powder can be recycled as well.
The developers say their machine works very much like its larger and more expensive competitors by using a control system to manipulate the speed of the motors and deliver powder into a high energy beam. The powder is then melted and fused with substrate – the base material – to create the finished object.
Aurora Labs says the S1 will be available for just under $4000 for the basic model and that the S2+ will be available through their Kickstarter Campaign for just over $7000.