Melbourne showcases world’s biggest 3D printer

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Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, making things out of metal has involved a wide range of skills and techniques, including casting, pressing, bending and welding. Most of these are still in use in some form today because they are tried and trusted and offer strong, safe components, but things are starting to change thanks to new technology.

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3D printing, or being able to create a physical item from a computer design, started with plastics and resins building up layers of melted or sprayed material to create a solid object. As the price of the equipment has dropped, it has transformed areas like prototyping and model making. 3D printing has potential applications in many areas, including medicine, but its use in large-scale manufacturing has generally been limited to the prototype and design stage.

Printing metal

That could all be about to change as Melbourne-based company Titomic launches what it believes is the world’s largest 3D printer that works in metal. Objects are built up layer by layer using a spray of particles. Unlike older techniques for 3D printing where the metal needs to be melted down, however, the new machine uses a technique where particles are fired at very high speed, allowing them to fuse together instantly.

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Of course, the concept of fastening metal together without heat isn’t new. Using metal bonding adhesive from suppliers such as has been a common technique for a long time. The “kinetic fusion” technique used by Titomic takes things further and allows for the fast and efficient production of complete components.

Bigger and better

The size of the new machine means it can be used to create large objects, too. The machine can be employed to create objects that are up to 10 metres in length. It’s important to note, however, that this is a technology that is still largely untested.

It remains to be seen whether the fusion technique can produce items with strength and durability equivalent to conventional machined or cast parts. It’s also restricted in the sense that unlike other forms of 3D printing, it needs to spray onto a scaffold. More testing is needed before structural components can be made with this technique. Nevertheless, Titomic is optimistic about its uses and hopes to be able to print parts for aircraft and even submarines in future.

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