Anyone with access to a welder and the Internet soon could make his or her own replacement parts or tools with a new 3D metal printer that can be built in any garage.
Until recently, most of the 3D printing hype has swirled around plastic 3D printers, which have been used to make everything from clothing to art. And while 3D metal printers do exist, their price tag starts at a half million dollars.
Now, scientists have built an open-source 3D metal printer that costs under $1,200, sharing their design and software with the maker community.
“We have open-sourced the plans,” in the hopes of accelerating the technology by allowing others to build upon the design, said projectleader Joshua Pearce, a materials engineer at Michigan Technological University in Houghton. [The 10 Weirdest Things Created By 3D Printing]
The snazzy device is modeled after a RepRap (short for “replicating rapid prototype”), a 3D printer that can print most of its own components. The printer uses a metal inert gas (MIG) welder to lay down thin layers of steel, much like plastic printers do, and build complex geometric objects. All of the parts needed to build the metal printer are things one could buy or print using a plastic 3D printer, Pearce told LiveScience.
Pearce envisions the printer being used to make replacement parts for things such as bicycles or to print scientific tools, which could radically reduce the cost of lab equipment, he said.
“I hope to see a large number of small companies starting up to make specialty parts,” he said.