A small, family-run business has come up with a metal printer that it thinks will transform manufacturing.
The MK1 metal printer works by melting aluminum into a molten form, and then using a magnetic field to eject droplets of the substance onto a moving plate, which maneuvers around to create the desired 3D shape. That differs from other metal printers, which lay down a layer of powdered metal and melt it with a laser or electron beam, a process called powder bed fusion. In this process, there's a chance that some particles of the powder do not get melted, creating weak spots.
Zack Vader is the CTO and co-founder of Vader Systems and says he came up with the idea of making a metal printer after he failed to find a company that was capable of printing a microturbine generator he needed for a project. So with the help of his father, Scott, and alma mater, the University at Buffalo, he set out to build his own.
On its website, Vader Systems claims that the MK1 is twice as fast as conventional metal printers and can operate at 90 percent of the cost. The machine has already garnered some attention, with one automotive parts maker expressing an interest in eventually buying at least 50 of them, according to the university.
In the future, the MK1 could also be used to print out custom surgical devices for hospitals as well as a number of complex parts.
"I can see at this stage that it can complement traditional metal printing, but later, maybe 10 years later, it can dominate the metal printing market because it can print better quality, cheaper, and faster," says Chi Zhou, an assistant professor at University at Buffalo and 3-D printing expert.
The Vaders are currently developing a new model of their metal printer, the MK2. It will have 10 printing heads and produce parts 30 times faster than the original model. The MK2 is expected to come out in 2018.