A future made with 3d printing
In the rapidly expanding playground of gadgets, gizmos, and all things tech, it’s sometimes hard to believe that some of the latest breakthroughs aren’t from the mind of an eccentric Hollywood director. We find ourselves in an age of self-driving cars and levitating trains—so why do so many care about printing flimsy toy models and fancy keyrings?
In my ten-month placement at a leading British engineering company, I saw the research and design that went into evolving 3D printing from plastic polymers to metals through direct metal laser sintering—the formal name given to the process of blasting metal with an extremely powerful laser to make structures, also know as metal 3D printing.
The inner workings are extraordinarily complicated: in essence, metal 3D printing works through a powder chute that dispenses a set amount of powdered metal beads, and a wiper blade not dissimilar to a car windscreen wiper that spreads the powder over the ‘bed’—a flat metal sheet. A programmable laser (or even multiple lasers nowadays) blast certain areas of the powder, selectively ‘welding’ parts of the current layer to the layer below. After this the bed drops down and a new layer is spread on top, and the process repeats.