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Microwave Aluminium Printing

Metal parts for people other than blacksmiths. A system to perform aluminium "lost PLA" casting with no propane, and no danger to humans.

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Our process uses consumer microwave units to perform burn-out of PLA from molds, and a different microwave to liquefy aluminium, to be poured into the mold.

What is working and what we're working towards:

What works now is that we are able to successfully melt aluminum inside a microwave and supply our molds to get fine quality crafted aluminium parts.

All of the software will be released under the GNU GPL V3 as the project advances, with the hardware designs released under the TAPR OHL.

  • 1 × 1200W consumer microwave with an emitter mounted in the top of the unit. this is for melting the aluminium. the rotating mechanisms must be removed.
  • 1 × consumer microwave this is for microwaving out the plastic from the molds. the rotating mechanisms should be preserved.
  • 1 × bag of plaster of paris Used for the mold mixture.
  • 1 × 1 pound container of 1200 grit silicon carbide powder Used in molds to burn PLA
  • 1 × bag of perlite Used in mold mixture.
  • 1 × water used in mold mixture
  • 1 × Alcohol used in mold for burning away PLA. We used 140 proof isopropyl alcohol.
  • 1 × powdered sugar used in mold for burning away PLA.
  • 1 × bunch of styrofoam Used as channels in the mold.
  • 1 × High Heat Furnace Cement used for the kiln

View all 11 components

  • Facing a new year...

    Julia Longtin04/03/2016 at 15:04 0 comments

    Tightening up the scope of the project to just the aluminium casting techniques.

  • Using the Molds

    pizza cat08/21/2014 at 05:54 1 comment

    Fresh baked molds. The one on the right used a more refined recipe and came out great.

    We used a hairdryer to blow out the ash from the inside. You can use any form of compressed air.

    Creating sprue extenders, used so that liquid aluminum causes pressure inside of the chamber. They need to be skinny & tall!

    Attaching the sprue extenders atop of the mold. Good ol' duck tape can be used for this to keep out the sand.

    Our sandbox with a small layer of sand on the bottom. Place the molds in the sandbox and then cover with sand until it reaches near the top of the sprue extenders.

    Carefully pouring the aluminum.

    Oops. Aluminum will burn through the sprue extenders. It is important to fill the box until the sand reaches near the top of the sprue extenders. Our box nearly caught on fire..

    Taking our mold out of the sand. This is the most fun part of the process, seeing what is inside...

    :o

    Chisling the plaster away with a screwdriver or whatever you got.

    Voila!

    Now you have a part to remove from its mountings! This part came out great! However, we learned a lot about the mounting of the part when attempting to remove it. That will be covered in the next project log. :)

  • Microwave Casting Pt. 1

    Julia Longtin08/20/2014 at 21:31 0 comments

    We're going to microwave out our molds. Here's some science about whats happening. 


    Two important stages:

    Stage 1: Remove all water - will sweat profusely the water content in the form of vapor - may need towel to keep microwave from flooding.

    [] Warning []  Use safety precautions! We did this outside and stood atleast 30 feet away from the microwave.

    During this stage, we have seen conditions where the mold could split and explode. This was mostly in part due to heating the water in the mold too rapidly in one spot. The microwave that caused this problem had no spinning plate. This is bad because then the microwaves will target one particular point and will begin to overheat the mold. We observed a chain reaction when this happened. Once a section of the mold began to overheat, a hot-spot forms and it grows as it absorbs microwaves at a higher rate [becoming a susceptor!]. This is what caused Porygon's brains to blow out of the mold and become captured in aluminium.

    Stage 2:

     It was hard to capture the smoke escape the mold. Microwave in short bursts starting at a lower temperature.

    We set our microwave at 50% [1100 watts] and zapped it in short bursts of around 5 to 15 minutes on average.

    The investment will of evaporated and start smoking (non-profusely). The susceptor absorbs the microwaves at a higher rate at which the contents from the mold incinerate and create the cavity inside. Make sure that no plastic is visible in the bottom of the sprues and wells and use a form of compressed air [we had a hairdryer) to blow out the ash and residue from the inside. 

    You're ready to move onto the next step when the mold has been cleared of ash and residue, making aluminium!!

    ** Don't reuse the microwave for food again **

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Discussions

Keith Olson wrote 12/28/2015 at 16:22 point

This is pretty unbelievable!  As an alternative to plaster of paris, here is something to consider: http://hackaday.com/2014/08/12/and-so-castings-made-of-kinetic-sand-turn-out-pretty-well-actually/

  Are you sure? yes | no

Julia Longtin wrote 03/14/2016 at 23:52 point

in our testing (science!), we found that sand is not microwave transparent.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Peter Walsh wrote 08/07/2015 at 19:40 point

Quick tip: To make a proper riser, use a "tin" can instead of an aluminum can (the kind of can food comes in, such as a soup can).

Normally one would have a pipe sticking up through the top of the sand, place the can over the pipe, pack sand between the pipe and can, then remove the pipe (to create the riser). You'll probably need a different method for plaster molds, but a food can works pretty well for a riser.

Sand mixed with a little sodium silicate ("water glass", used in canning and available at some supermarkets) will solidify the sand a little, like a baked cookie. You can use this method to pre-make risers as fat rings to place over your sprue holes.

And to remove embedded gas from the aluminum, wrap a teaspoon of calcium carbonate (ground up chalk from the dollar store, or just buy the powder for pennies on eBay) in aluminum foil and push it to the bottom of the melt with a rod. This will generate CO2 gas which bubbles up through the melt and removes other dissolved gases. Do this two or three times to get bubble-free cast aluminum.

Make sure your riser extends from the topmost section of your part, else the trapped air will prevent aluminum from filling and you'll get a void. If your part has several sections that stick up, attach small wires at each section (before casting the mold) to create channels that allow air to escape when the aluminum is poured.

  Are you sure? yes | no

baltsar wrote 04/26/2015 at 12:57 point

I will help you. Maybe you should take a break. My mistake. Sorry.

  Are you sure? yes | no

clothier.bruce wrote 04/17/2015 at 09:02 point

Yes,

This has all the hallmarks of a scam. AFAIK you cant melt metal inside a domestic microwave, so the authors have to come lean and explain.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jerry Biehler wrote 04/27/2015 at 18:24 point

You can, there have been a few people working on it in the past few years. They use various materials that absorb the microwaves and heat up. That is what melts the aluminum. It's kind of silly, just use a small kiln.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Dylan Bleier wrote 04/27/2015 at 19:36 point

materials such as?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Jerry Biehler wrote 04/27/2015 at 19:43 point

Carbon, often in graphite form.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Peter Walsh wrote 08/07/2015 at 19:18 point

I do hobbyist casting at home, and have looked into this.

You make a ceramic crucible with impurities that absorb microwaves, such as graphite. The crucible absorbs the heat and transfers to the aluminum, melting it.

There's lots of articles and YouTube videos on the net explaining this.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Julia Longtin wrote 03/14/2016 at 23:51 point

I'm right here, now. I think the results speak for themselves. :)

  Are you sure? yes | no

Dylan Bleier wrote 04/16/2015 at 20:03 point

How is this printing and not casting??

  Are you sure? yes | no

Vitran Accad wrote 01/03/2015 at 00:20 point

I am curious about *how* you melted the aluminum. I do not understand how the aluminum is melting in the microwave. Can you show some pictures and instructions of how you melted the aluminum? From my understanding, the microwave should not heat aluminum unless one was at much higher frequencies.

  Are you sure? yes | no

dudesom wrote 12/18/2014 at 11:11 point
Awesome project!
Would a microwave with a side emitter work? Why must the emitter be on top to melt aluminum?

  Are you sure? yes | no

william.scott.baker wrote 09/24/2014 at 16:56 point
One method I've seen used to remove air bubbles is to simply place a random orbital sander on the table next to the item & turn it on. The sander vibrates the table, which in turn vibrates the container.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Spud wrote 09/08/2014 at 20:41 point
Could silica cartbide be added to PLA pellets and extruded into your own filament? Making your own microwaveable filament might be another great way to create an alternative over PVA or Hips+Limonene.

SiC embedded filament. Oh yea...might need to buy a filament making machine.

  Are you sure? yes | no

MTO wrote 04/11/2016 at 18:38 point

Silicon carbide is really hard, and used to make tools that will cut tool-steels, IIRC. I would think that a plastic+SC filament would double as a sort of hacksaw and erode your extrusion nozzle.

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anon wrote 08/25/2014 at 10:15 point
Ok, first I wanna say that this is an awesome project that i'll definitely have to try when I finally build a 3d printer.

As for the microwave radiation issue, it can most likely be solved with a large home built faraday cage similar to the one that comes as part of the microwave, you might also want to invest in a microwave oven leakage meter, it might give you a little insight into how much microwave radiation you're exposing yourself to during the whole process

if you don't mind me asking, what is the part in the pictures for? some kind of bracket or mount?

  Are you sure? yes | no

prof_braino wrote 08/25/2014 at 18:41 point
The part in the picture look like a version of the triangle frame corner of a RepRap Prusa 3D printer. I have a similar plan to print out a set of printer parts in PLA and cast them in aluminum. The idea to avoid the PLA parts warping when we print ABS etc that has a higher melting point than the PLA and needs a heated chamber.

  Are you sure? yes | no

PointyOintment wrote 08/26/2014 at 17:44 point
> how much microwave radiation you're exposing yourself to during the whole process

That is not really a cause for concern. It is simply radio waves—quite powerful compared to Wi-Fi, etc., but not ionizing, so cannot cause cancer. It only heats up your body slightly (just like cell phone signals).

  Are you sure? yes | no

Dylan Bleier wrote 04/26/2015 at 15:11 point

not necessarily true.... sub-millimeter radio waves have been shown to cause cancer through a resonant mechanism that unravels DNA 

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ganzuul wrote 08/26/2014 at 21:04 point
There does exist a risk in that microwave radiation may penetrate into the inner organs where no nerves to detect temperature exist. This way one can expose oneself to dangerous durations of localized heating without ever noticing the problem.

There is no need for the microwave oven to have a window which you can see through, so by replacing the screen with a solid shield you can make it safer. You should totally have a device to measure microwave radiation if you're going to do that though, and a solid grasp of what each component does.

BTW, always use a grounded outlet with a MWO. They conduct 2000V pulsed DC through the chassis.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Julia Longtin wrote 08/26/2014 at 21:56 point
we do no modification to the microwave other than removing the glass plate. this should be as safe as running a microwave to cook a turkey, which many of these machines were designed to do.

  Are you sure? yes | no

razorfish_sl wrote 08/21/2014 at 01:53 point
to remove air, you can try a metal box with a vacuum cleaner, it's what I use to remove air from resin casts.

Or you can use foundry sand to completely remove the need for the plaster in the first place, then hot pour into the polystyrene and it will vaporize and burn off rather than the extra step in the microwave

  Are you sure? yes | no

Julia Longtin wrote 08/21/2014 at 02:41 point
PLA does not burn away when liquid aluminium is applied, and sand is not microwave transparent.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Damian Paradis wrote 08/20/2014 at 16:16 point
OK this is awesome. I just got my Rigidbot 3D printer, and I've been playing around for a little over a year with the Gingery charcoal foundry for green sand aluminum casting. If you guys need any help let me know.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Tinydot wrote 08/20/2014 at 13:11 point
So how long do you actually have to microwave the aluminium before it can be cast?
For instance for your red-bull canned extruder part.
I've molten aluminium on a charcoal/coal forge before, and it takes quite a while to set up, which is especially annoying if you only want to cast 1 part. I wonder if this would be a decent alternative for small parts.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Julia Longtin wrote 08/21/2014 at 02:43 point
our current kiln melts a cup of aluminium in about two hours, but it has several defects. when we have the procedures down, we predict three hours of work from PLA part to aluminium poured.

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Darius wrote 08/18/2014 at 00:34 point
I really can't wait for the automation to begin from first stage to final stages. I'm going to follow up on this.

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Julia Longtin wrote 08/19/2014 at 03:52 point
Thanks! we fought with the chemical/thermal problems first, since mechanics is the easier part. we're all 3d printer tinkerers to begin with. :)

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Hemingway wrote 08/16/2014 at 23:09 point
Great!

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Julia Longtin wrote 08/15/2014 at 17:26 point
1200 watts, and we ventilated the microwave outside, so that no noxious fumes ended up in our house. ;)

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NigelSamhain wrote 08/15/2014 at 08:47 point
How many watts was the microwave you used to melt the aluminum and what modifications to the cabinet did you require if any?

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