I love the color of copper. But the properties of copper are more than just a nice color. Copper is not so expensive compared to other precious metals, has good electrical and heat conductivity, and can be used for inductors, electrical components, heat exchangers and other industrial applications that require good conductivity. And it has a good biofouling resistance, meaning that it does not attract bacteria, which is very useful for tubes, handles, coins and jewelry for example. Here are some examples of 3D printed copper objects to show you some of the current applications.
This 3D printed ring in copper is designed by Nils Faber and made by i.Materialise. The production technique of this ring is a mix of lost wax casting and 3D printing. First, a wax cast of the ring is 3D printed and then covered in fine plaster. When the plaster solidifies, it is placed in an oven and heated to a point where the wax is completely melted out. The metal is then poured into the empty cast and the real 3D printed metal item is created. In the final step, the item is finished manually.
This image shows you a machined copper part (left) and a 3D printed copper part, created by Markforged (more parts up top). There is a lot to gain with 3D printing copper. It is faster and at lower costs. With the 3D printed copper parts, automotive manufacturers, for example, can print the parts they need on-demand instead of holding significant inventory. According to Markforged, a global automotive manufacturer was able to cut tooling costs by 6 and lead times by 12 and mitigate against downtime exposure.
What you see here is a detail of a 3D printed copper rocket engine by 3T Additive Manufacturing and Launcher, which I saw at Formnext 2019. The rocket engine is made from EOS’ CopperAlloy CuCrZr. What you should know is that because of the excellent conductivity of copper, it has proven to be a very difficult material for additive manufacturing. The metal is simply too good at transferring the heat applied by a laser beam. The engine is printed in a single piece, which reduced costs and enables the highest-performance regenerative cooling design. Take a look at this video to see the production of the engine. It is quite amazing to see, as well as the testing of the rocket engine.
The last 3D printed copper object I also saw at Formnext last November at the booth of EOS. It is a combustion chamber, printed with EOS CopperAlloy CuCrZr on an EOS M400. It is a great example of how to benefit from the combination of freedom of design and a high conductivity material. I think this is very hard to accomplish with traditional manufacturing techniques.
Each of Tessa’s weekly picks is a curated group of 3D printed designs, based on the week’s chosen theme. If you would like to offer a theme for Tessa, or if you have your own 3D printed weekly picks you would like to see featured, please let us know by commenting below. Subscribe to the newsletter to get the latest weekly picks every week in your mailbox.