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METAL Laser 3D Printer for makers

A metal 3D printer for the budget of a maker, to create your full metal parts

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Hi! This is my last prototype of a metal 3D printer.
The focus is to make a metal 3D printer affordable for us makers so that you can easily prototype metal parts without spending thousands on machined parts.
Imagine a future where you can easily prototype a jet engine or a prosthetic limb or an electric motor! Maybe a custom heatsink?
This printer uses metal powder (SS316L, Copper powder, and once perfected also Aluminium and Titanium ) to build full metal parts.
The powder is heated using a laser array emitting 405 nm light.
This project is about creating an instrument that can be widely used to accelerate our innovation. Imagine if Nikola Tesla or Henry Ford didn't have the right instruments. There have been probably thousands of smart kids just like them that were not able to get the funding for their instruments and so did not contribute as much as them, by cutting the cost of metal 3D printing we can create a new instrument for the next generation of innovators.

This is my 4th prototype of a metal 3D printer, it is made of PLA and uses 3 NEMA 17 stepper motors with GT2 belts.

The powder is melted using a Nichia laser array unit, capable of producing 95W of optical power.

This is something you should not mess around with, so if you want to try, buy at least OD7 protection glasses (they should be rated OD7 at the wavelength of the laser you are using, so around 450 nm in my case) and a good respirator unit, be always cautious to be alone while testing or with other people with the right protection gear, no animals, no kids around unless you have a full opaque enclosure of your printer.

The optics I'm using are coated aspheric lenses to focus the array to a small spot since the laser I'm using has already collimated beams with gang lenses.

Remember to choose lenses that have a clear aperture larger than your laser array diameter, and coated for the specific wavelength you are working with (this is to eliminate nasty reflections).

The aspheric lens must be placed at 1 back focal length distance from the surface of your laser, after that, you can adjust the lens holder distance from the build plate by loosing the screws and putting the laser at minimum power, moving back and forth until you find where the laser spot is the smallest, then tighten the screw.

The control unit is an Arduino Mega with the Ramps shield 1.4 and A4988 drivers.

In my last iteration, I'm also using the piston axis with a ballscrew to have the right precision, since you should be very cautious to have the right layer height (20 to 70 micron is the right range for this type of laser).

The powder reservoir (right triangle shape) uses an electromagnet to attach itself to the cartesian system when the powder is needed, making a pass on the piston section which has gone one layer height down. After the powder pass, the reservoir goes back in his parking space, deactivates the electromagnet and the cartesian system moves around the laser with the lens to scan a new layer of powder.

All of these processes can be easily controlled using the Cura slicer and the post-processing functions to add Gcode.

The firmware I'm using is Marlin, the only modifications are normal changes such as the steps per unit and the dummy thermistor (with the dummy thermistor it will not wait for a nonexistent extruder to reach temperature).

I made some prints before cooking my lens and my lens holder, making a few lines printed out of stainless steel SS316L, and I have to say I'm proud of it as the first result.

The issue now is that the substrate is deforming under the heat of the laser, so I'm now getting my machined aluminum piston and a thick machined substrate made out of steel.

Those are quite pricey but it's part of the prototyping process...

I'm happy because I will be able to make longer prints with those, not being constrained by the limits of PLA melting or thin metal substrates deforming.

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post code 4.PNG

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View all 11 files

  • 1 × Ramps 1.4 Board
  • 1 × Nichia 95W laser array
  • 1 × Arduino Mega
  • 5 × A4988 drivers
  • 1 × GT2 belt (10 meters)

View all 17 components

View all 2 project logs

  • 1
    Printing parts

    This might seem an obvious step for most of you but it might still hide some difficulties.

    First of all, you need a medium-large sized FDM printer (at least 350x350x200 mm).

    The main block will take a few days to be printed, so be sure you will not have any power outages, set the infill to around 20% and the layer height to 0.18.

    Remember to put on the upper side all the surfaces you want to be flat, the PLA in contact with the build plate for many days is likely to deform.

    Use a higher (35% to 45%) infill for the smaller parts on the axes, those will need to withstand some load.

  • 2
    Assemble

    Assembling must be done carefully, first of all, make sure those carriages will not escape from the linear rail. Fix the MGN12 linear rails to the main block using M3 screws and bolts without tightening too much.

    Do the same with the steppers and insert the pulleys using M5 screws and spacers.

    Tight the screws of the linear rail progressively once the structure is assembled, while moving the carriages on the axes, to get the perfect alignment.

  • 3
    Add the Belts

    The GT2 linear belts will help you move the axes, cut them a little longer than needed, place them and fix them with 3 cable ties.

    You can tighten them using two pliers once you have tightened the cable ties.

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nicolai valenti wrote 2 days ago point

Hi guys! please don't be afraid to ask any questions or send ideas!

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