Importance of Metal 3D Printing with Copper

The new copper alloy joins metal choices for additive manufacturing and offers the flexibility to create parts with complex geometries, compared to machining.

FREMONT, CA: Metal 3D printing is presently on the rise. The potential to additively manufacture near net shape parts has long been a holy grail of manufacturing. As a result, Metal 3D printing has carried immense hype. The blind excitement for the process overshadows the actual benefits of metal 3D printing, which paints the picture of a fabrication method that can add value to the manufacturing process in several ways. Designers and engineers are more frequently turning to industrial-grade, metal 3D printing for prototype and production parts. To meet this rising demand for the metal and offer more material options, firms are using a copper alloy. This material is presently available for higher resolution jobs with a 100mm x 100mm x 100mm max build size.

Copper CuNi2SiCr is an alloyed copper material that integrates excellent mechanical properties with high thermal and electrical conductivity and enhanced corrosion resistance. This alloy can be leveraged in rough environments where pure copper is not feasible. The newly added copper alloy joins other metal choices for DMLS, including aluminum, cobalt chrome, Inconel, stainless steel, and titanium. A layer as fine as 0.0008 in. and a minimum feature size of 0.039 in. is possible with 3D-printed copper. Parts get a standard finish, and secondary machining options are available to ensure the parts are complete when users receive them. As with all DMLS materials, the following secondary operations like axis milling, turning, wire EDM, tapping, reaming, hot isostatic pressing, mechanical testing, and first article inspection.

DMLS provides increased design flexibility because it uses a fusing laser to weld powdered metal together to form parts layer by layer. DMLS allows mass customization and potential cost reduction; however, it is not a direct substitute for metal manufacturing. It is often leveraged to reduce metal, multi-part assemblies requiring additional steps, like brazing and welding, into one component. The technology is also used as a means to avoid extra material from well-developed parts.

DMLS technology affords engineers the potential to lightweight parts because of its ability to produce incredibly complex geometries like mesh-like structures, honeycombs, or hollowed-out features. The technology develops complex shapes possible with other metal manufacturing methods, leading to optimized and efficient parts when designed well for metal 3D printing.

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