26 Jan, 24

MIT Researchers’ Rapid 3D Printing with Liquid Metal Technique


Researchers at MIT have introduced a groundbreaking 3D-printing technique, known as liquid metal printing (LMP), that utilizes liquid metal for swift and efficient printing. This innovative process allows for the rapid production of large aluminum components within minutes, a stark contrast to conventional methods that could take hours for similar builds. The technology has already demonstrated its capability by crafting table legs, chair frames, and various furniture components.

In the LMP process, molten aluminum is directed along a predetermined path into a bed of tiny glass beads, which swiftly solidify into a 3D structure. Despite being at least ten times faster than comparable metal manufacturing techniques, LMP does have a notable drawback—it sacrifices resolution for speed and scale. Consequently, the researchers have primarily employed it for creating low-resolution items like chair legs, avoiding intricate parts with complex geometries.

The trade-off in resolution, however, does not compromise durability. Parts manufactured using LMP can withstand post-print machining such as drilling and boring. This durability surpasses that of wire arc additive manufacturing, an existing metal printing method, as LMP keeps the material molten throughout the entire process, reducing the risk of cracking and warping.

MIT researchers suggest a combination of LMP with other techniques for tasks requiring both speed and high resolution. Skylar Tibbits, a senior author of the project’s introductory paper, highlights the applicability of this technology in creating “components of larger structures,” particularly for furniture parts, construction, and industrial design.

Notably, LMP is not restricted to aluminum and can work with other metals. The choice of aluminum is attributed to its popularity in construction and recyclability. The research team aims to refine the concept further, addressing issues like heating consistency, prevention of sticking, and enhanced control over molten metal. Challenges, such as irregular prints with larger nozzle diameters, are being actively addressed, with Tibbits suggesting that the method could potentially revolutionize metal manufacturing.

While 3D printing has seen a resurgence in recent years, particularly in medical applications, MIT’s LMP stands out as a noteworthy advancement in metal manufacturing. As the team continues to iterate on the concept, the potential for becoming a “game-changer” in the industry remains a promising prospect.