3D printing has gained more acceptance in small projects than in large industrial environments. Aspects such as the slowness of the process or the difficulty in obtaining regular finishes have hindered mass adoption. However, there are industries such as construction where the results of industrial 3D printing are already being felt. Thanks to the latest technological breakthroughs, other sectors of the economy will benefit from this technology. The latest industry to join this technology is the automotive industry, with a new steel alloy for 3D printing.
New car 3D printing technology
Tesla factories apply the technique used to make toy cars to their cars. That is a metal casting process in which molten metal is poured into a mold to form objects. This machine, known as the Giga Press, weighs nine thousand tons and greatly reduces the number of parts needed to make the chassis.
However, metal cooling systems and inert gases are required to speed up the process and obtain uniform results. So far, the maximum weight of parts is fifty kilograms. What if we use additive 3D printing?
This approach prompted two young MIT students to work with a consultant from the University of Paderborn in Germany to take on a new steel printing project. The result earned them a prize in the ASM Education Foundation 2022 design competition.
Based on a system for calculating the properties of materials called CALPHAD, the researchers formulated a new steel alloy with ideal characteristics. After melting and spraying into droplets, the droplets solidify and form a powder used as a raw material. Now it was enough to apply layers of steel powder and melt it with a laser.
The advantage of 3D printing is that the material cools much faster and the quality of the results is higher, allowing more complex parts to be printed. The new alloy has already been patented and could soon be used to produce more environmentally friendly electric vehicles.
Printing with wood and light – is it possible?
Recently, new 3D printing techniques have flourished using alternative raw materials to plastic, cement or resin. Here are some of the highlights:
The innovative steel alloy is not the only 3D printing material produced by MIT labs. In fact, this is an innovative technology that, through plant growth, creates a material of exceptional hardness.
To do this, they used living cells from a plant called zinnia, transferred to a gel, where they were stimulated to grow faster with plant hormones. It is hoped that in the future this technology will allow the production of one-piece furniture using molds.
3D printing with light
It’s more than a matter of raw materials, it’s a technology that allows the resin to cure a hundred times faster than conventional additive printing. As explained in this article, the system projects two beams of light onto the resin and cures almost instantly during the polymerization process. In addition, since the resulting parts do not have joints or connection points, they are much stronger than products obtained by traditional methods.
3D printing with molecules
While the examples above offer new ways to 3D print at the visible scale, researchers at the Jülich Institute for Quantum Nanoscience in Germany are applying similar strategies at the microscopic scale. In this case, they combined artificial intelligence and tunneling microscopes in order to move and arrange molecules at will. This breakthrough opens the door to the production of molecular transistors for quantum computing applications.
The possibilities of 3D printing are endless as, in addition to being able to print structures, food, and even living organs, they are one of the most promising ways to colonize other planets. Thus, NASA and private companies are exploring the potential of additive printing to build structures on the Moon or Mars. If you want to learn more about the possibilities of 3D printing and other technological advances, you can subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.