The Bound Metal Printing (BMP) segment has generated a lot of interest due to the activities of companies like Desktop Metal, Markforged and ExOne, but we cannot forget about Digital Metal. As a metal 3D printing service provider and machine manufacturer, Digital Metal is a subsidiary of the Swedish multinational Höganäs AB, the world’s largest manufacturer of powder metals. Now Digital Metal has announced the latest material for its metal portfolio: pure copper.
While it may be a niche part of the larger metal 3D printing segment, copper is still expected to grow significantly. The SmarTech analysis assumes that by 2029 1.4 million kilograms of copper powder, both pure copper and copper alloys, will be shipped for AM use material.
Due to its high thermal and electrical conductivity, copper is ideal for electronics, heat exchangers, heat sinks and engine parts. For example, copper 3D printing is currently thriving in the manufacture of induction coils for use in industrial manufacturing for heat treatments, soldering, welding, and other processes. COVID-19 has also allowed the material to shine due to its anti-microbrial properties, resulting in reusable copper filters and copper door handles.
Two examples of digital metal are a megaphone antenna and a heat sink. In the former case, the company emphasizes the possibility of choosing a shape most suitable for a given application and amplifying the correct frequency while using thin walls and ribs, reducing the consumption of material. Due to the complexity of the antennas, 3D printing can be less expensive than traditional manufacturing.
3D heat sinks printed in copper could offer improved heat transfer properties, with special geometries only being possible with 3D printing to further improve the design. Digital Metal explains, “In this heat sink, the TPMS basic structure is three-dimensionally modified to have thicker walls and wider air ducts near the base and thin, closely spaced walls on top, which optimally distributes the heat and enables a strong natural convection flow becomes . ”
“Printing with pure copper using Digital Metal’s binder jetting technology is one of the most anticipated material launches of all time and is completely new to binder jetting. Copper was high on our customers’ wish lists and the timing is perfect as the demand for copper applications is growing rapidly in areas of rapid growth such as electromobility and thermal conductivity. We have been developing the process in-house for a while now, but I really want to highlight the value of the excellent working relationships with key customers in our fast growing Digital Metal User Group. It has been a great help and we are now very excited to be able to deliver a high quality copper process for spraying Digital Metal binders, ”said Christian Lönne, CEO of Digital Metal.
It makes sense to use copper as the standard material for a binder spray company because the metal is not that easy to 3D print with the more common powder bed fusion (PBF) 3D printing technologies. Due to their high reflectivity, PBF machines need to be converted to 3D printing with copper, including the use of blue or green lasers. BMP may therefore be better suited to 3D printing with the material initially. Because of this, both Desktop Metal and Markforged have announced the availability of pure copper for their metal extrusion systems in 2020. ExOne has been using copper for its binder jetting technology for a while, but it will be interesting to see if the metal extrusion system, the Metal Designlab, can print with copper as well.
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