3D printing—without supports

example of a support structure in 3D printingMany additive manufacturing processes (AM) and 3D printing designs require the use of support structures during part build. Either the geometry cannot stand on its, own or the material needs support during curing. But support structures frequently restrict the geometry you can use, involve extra material (costs), and extra labor to remove. They are necessary, but not especially desired in many additive manufacturing processes.

What if you no longer needed support structures? The Engineer out of the U.K. is reporting that scientists at Sheffield University think they can eliminate the need for support structures in selective laser melting additive manufacturing processes. This could be a big deal if they succeed.

Principal investigator Neil Hopkinson at the University and his team have developed a process they call anchorless selective laser melting (ASLM) that allows them to create parts without the need for support structures. (In Europe, AM support structures are often referred to as anchors.)

Hopkinson and his team melt dissimilar materials to form a “eutectic system alloy.” Eutectic alloys solidify at a single, sharp temperature, which means parts can harden more quickly during the build process, reducing the possibility of developing stress points during or shortly after a build, and thus, reducing the need for support.

Reports The Engineer, the team has already manufactured hitherto impossible geometries with ASLM using low-melt-temperature metals. Now the scientists are aiming to replicate the process with metals that have a higher melt temperature, with a particular emphasis on making parts out of aluminium.

This would be good news to aerospace and automotive industries, which often use eutectic alloys in various parts, and even medical applications might benefit.


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