3D printing with metals has been around for a while now, but — just like 3D printing as a whole — it’s only just starting to seep through from industrial applications to consumer-friendly ones.
In this vein, leading online 3D printing services company i.materialise just announced a new ultra-lightweight aluminium material; aimed at consumers rather than pros for the first time.
“Printing in plastic is great, but a lot of people don’t view parts printed in plastic to be quite as exciting as printing in metal,” Miranda Bastijns, i.materialise’s Director of Consumer Products, tells Digital Trends. “What makes us so thrilled about this launch is that it’s offering the ability to print in aluminum for our consumer-level customers for the first time. Similar materials have previously been available in the professional world, and we’ve been able to offer them to our industrial customers, but now we think that it’s something that’s also viable to offer to the consumer market — and that’s new for us.”
i.materialise isn’t the first consumer-facing company to offer aluminum 3D printing tools. Perhaps the most well-known is Shapeways, although the addition of another company on the market is proof positive that metal 3D printing is no longer exclusively available for industrial purposes.
The most interesting part of i.materialise’s aluminum printing option is actually the direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology behind it, which involves a laser beam and fine metal powder — which in this instance is aluminum powder. Following your 3D model, i.materialise will 3D print your object layer by layer in aluminum: meaning that you don’t even need your own 3D printer to do it. The process allows for incredibly fine detail in the metal 3D printing, even as tiny as 0.25mm.
“The one thing we can’t yet predict is how consumers are going to use the aluminum material,” Bastijns continues. “It’s something we’re very curious about; we have no idea what it is that we can expect in terms of designs. We have experience with a variety of other metals, but this lightweight aluminum is very new to us. We wanted to give people the chance to try it out.”
Aluminum 3D printing going mainstream? Apple’s Jony Ive must be bursting with joy right now…