A research project centering on 3D metal printing, being conducted in partnership between the University of Sheffield, in England, and a local printing company, could well benefit outfits such as 3Design Center in the near future.

The object of this initiative is to reduce the cost of titanium printing powders, thereby facilitating the expansion of 3D metal printing. Currently, the technique in question is extremely niche, due to both the prohibitive costs of titanium powder (as high as $200 – $400 per kilogram) and the toxic nature of the vast majority of 3D metal printing processes available. The Rotherham-based company that the University is working with has, however, come up with a way to produce this material in a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way, reducing its retail price and making it more affordable to small and medium printing outfits like 3Design Center.

The innovative process devised by the printer in question sees rutile sand — a naturally occurring form of titanium found in nature — be turned into titanium powder through electrolysis, in what is essentially a one-step process. When compared to the most commonly applied process currently on the market — the Kroll process — this new method offers numerous advantages. Firstly, as noted above, it is environmentally friendly, unlike the extremely toxic Kroll technique. Secondly, it applies a one-step process rather than the Kroll’s complex multi-phase system, which involves processing a metal sponge into billets, melting those into bar form, and then atomising said bar into powder. This helps make it highly cost-effective when compared to the current technique, which may play an important part in the technique’s eventual spread into the consumer market.

The involvement of the University of Sheffield came at the manufacturing stage, with the institution’s Department of Materials printer undertaking the task of testing this new method and proving it was feasible. Results were entirely satisfactory, showing the technique is not only doable but very effective. This could represent an important development – not only for companies like 3Design Center but also for the automotive, aerospace and defence industries – which would see 3D metal printing become much easier and more widespread than it is at the moment.

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To learn more about how 3D Designs can bring to life an image or design for the perfect, memorable gift or award, visit their website at http://www.3designcenter.com

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