iro3d, the manufacturer of a metal 3D printing system, has begun production of its machines and has shipped to four customers in recent months.
The Seattle-based start-up is offering the small-format machines at a base price of $5,000, with the price set to drop as demand grows. There is also scope to scale the machine up and offer a more industrial-capable system, which would ultimately be costlier.
Users so far have the standard version with build parameters of around 300 x 300 x 100 mm. They include a company in Hong Kong who is currently testing the machine and has expressed an interest in becoming a reseller in Hong Kong and mainland China, and a firm in Canada who purchased the machine ‘out of curiosity’ and will begin using it in the coming months. The two other customers are US-based: The first, a school, and the second, a makerspace.
As demand increases, so will the iro3d team. Still only consisting of one member, Sergey Singov, the founder of the company, wishes to hire a welder, a painter, and potentially someone to assemble the machine too. He’d also welcome investors and people with marketing skills as his venture moves forward.
Currently, iro3d is still in the process of improving the production and capabilities of the machine. Sergey is doing the assembling on his own, outsourcing most of the manufacturing, save for 75 plastic components which he produces on an X-Smart machine from Qidi Technology. A notable improvement in the production of the machine has been a self-made fixture which is able to hold the printer in place as it is rotated and painted, meaning no downtime while the machine dries. Modifications will be made to the design of the machine to make it easier to package, meanwhile.
Improvements to the capabilities of the system include enhanced mechanics; the inclusion of a collision detection feature, whereby the build stops if there is interference within the printer’s build parameters; and a 32-bit micro controller which has enabled smoother motion and a smarter firmware. Improvements are still desired in the slicing software to allow the user to visualise the model in 3D, and a more standalone interface is to be enabled by an LCD touchscreen.
The iro3d system uses Selective Powder Deposition (SPD), and sees parts printed in metal with sand supports. It can, in theory, print in any metal material, but in practice, Sergey has not tackled the likes of stainless steel, titanium or aluminium, since it would require a kiln with an inert atmosphere. He has, however, had success with high-carbon steel, copper-iron, copper-nickel, copper-silver, and copper-gold, among other materials.
The metal build and sand support powders are deposited into a crucible, which is then taken from the print bed, and topped up with an infill metal material and additional sand powder. Placed in a kiln, the crucible is baked, and the infill metal is melted and soaked through the metal build powder. When it cools, a solid object is formed. Then, the sand is removed, either with a wire brush or by sand blasting, and the part is pretty much ready to use. The sand powder can be filtered and reused, as can any excess metal infill material.
Print time is around 24 hours depending on part complexity, with an additional few hours for baking in the kiln – three hours at 1250°C for high-carbon steel parts, and two hours at 1184°C for copper-iron and copper-nickel. Powders, both metal and sand, and crucibles are to be purchased through 3rd party companies, while the machine can be ordered directly through iro3d.