Low-Cost rapid Prototyping with metals for high-strength applications is possible with Andreas Bastian's open source laser sintering 3D printer. This is a big step for expanding the functionality of open source microfactories, which have been largely limited to ABS and PLA plastics, and photosensitive resins. Andreas Bastian's 3D Printer makes high-fidelity wax models from 3D CAD files, allowing the user to leverage the precise and rapid prototyping capabilities of CNC systems for lost wax casting applications.
Metal parts created via lost wax casting of printed wax models can be suitable for high strength applications, which strikes me as a first for the DIY microfactory scene. This new design allows the user to draft a part in AutoCAD, then use the resulting .stl file and ReplicatorG to create a GCode file for the printer. The GCode files are sent to the printer's arduino, which has been loaded with custom firmware based on the ultimaker firmware. The arduino transmits instructions to stepper motors and a laser which work together to fuse layers of powdered wax print medium which compose the wax model. Wax models can then be used as the positive for lost wax casting in metal.
This video is from Andreas Bastian's video page for this project...check out the rest of his videos here.
In addition to all the great industrial applications, I would be in no way surprised to see this technology adopted by jewelry designers in the very near future. Who could resist using 3D scans of a customer's hand to print up perfect rings and bangles?
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This printer was featured by Make Magazine in February 2012.