Stainless Steel Printing from Shapeways

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As if 3D printing wasn’t cool enough, you can now “print” objects in stainless steel. That’s right, dust off your old Transformers designs, make room in the Monopoly box for a new piece, and get ready for the model budget at your office to sky-rocket. Shapeways, an European 3D printing website that has traditionally worked in plastics and resins, has upped its game by giving you the option to take your airy artistic concepts and fashion them into cold hard steel. Except for some reasonable constraints on size and detail there are no limits to what you can create. Even if you’re not a model enthusiast, stainless steel printing holds the promise of machines that can replicate themselves and build anything. A short video of a printed steel object is after the break.

You can now print 3D stainless steel shapes at Shapeways

Shapeways lets you print 3D stainless steel creations

One of the cool things about Shapeways is that they bend over backwards to make it easy for you to make your steel creations. Their traditional 3D printing was mentioned on Singularity Hub a few months ago because they provide clear tutorials, software to get you drafting objects in 3D, and a huge gallery of other designs that you can purchase or use for inspiration. The process from getting the idea in your head to holding the steel object in your hand is as simplified as they can make it. Conceivably you could get the whole design portion done in a few minutes. They have a cool 3D printing introductory video (resin, not steel) – that’s after the break, too.

Stainless steel printing, like most 3D printing, is accomplished by the slow layering of material on a substrate. As you watch the printing machine build a design it’s like seeing an object grow out of thin air. For stainless steel printing, the layers are formed of steel powder that is held together by a binding material. When the whole model is done, the steel is infused with bronze. It’s a flexible process that yields some durable and really cool objects. The price for steel is about 5-6 times greater than for traditional resin or plastic, but you only pay about $10 USD per cubic centimeter.

Still, Shapeways’ stainless steel printing is far from perfect. The layering can be a bit obvious in parts, incomplete polishing is a possibility, the lead time is much longer (21 days versus the normal 10), and every design has to be hand-reviewed to make sure it will work. All of these problems are clearly described in a section on the Shapeways stainless steel page titled “expectation management.” I would like to take a moment and applaud Shapeways for having both guts and common sense. Listen up Internet, if you want to sell us something cool, put the limitations right up front.

As Singularity Hub discussed a few months ago with Reprap, 3D printing is expanding its horizons. It’s moving into your home and, with stainless steel printing, it might just become self-replicating. Metal, with all its conductive goodness, is essential if your going to print machines that could print other machines. Once that happens, manufacturing and production will change forever. In the meantime, I’m going to jump on the Shapeways website. There’s this Klein bottle I’ve been thinking about…

Discussion — 23 Responses

  • digitalcole August 6, 2009 on 3:18 pm

    It kind of makes you wonder about the possibilities of this technology. Building out of steel we could potentially make tools, auto parts or any other durable product. It’s not really the end of manufacturing, it’s the beginning of personal/decentralized manufacturing. It’s becoming a wondrous world indeed.

  • digitalcole August 6, 2009 on 11:18 am

    It kind of makes you wonder about the possibilities of this technology. Building out of steel we could potentially make tools, auto parts or any other durable product. It’s not really the end of manufacturing, it’s the beginning of personal/decentralized manufacturing. It’s becoming a wondrous world indeed.

  • than August 6, 2009 on 5:07 pm

    The press release isn’t even right, powdered metal rapid prototyping has been around for a while. This specific method or material may be new but it certainly isn’t the first non-polymer 3D printer.

  • than August 6, 2009 on 1:07 pm

    The press release isn’t even right, powdered metal rapid prototyping has been around for a while. This specific method or material may be new but it certainly isn’t the first non-polymer 3D printer.

  • Aaron August 6, 2009 on 5:41 pm

    Than, I didn’t mean to imply that Shapeways is the first to have metal prototyping, though I believe they are the first to work with stainless steel. The truly wonderful thing about this development is that it is a)accessible to almost anyone with an internet connection b)in a medium (steel) whose applications are wide-ranging and important in the general trend towards self-replication.

  • Aaron August 6, 2009 on 1:41 pm

    Than, I didn’t mean to imply that Shapeways is the first to have metal prototyping, though I believe they are the first to work with stainless steel. The truly wonderful thing about this development is that it is a)accessible to almost anyone with an internet connection b)in a medium (steel) whose applications are wide-ranging and important in the general trend towards self-replication.

  • robot makes music August 7, 2009 on 1:33 am

    Ho yeah, gonna model me up a Klein Bong.

    I mean bottle. Klein bottle.

  • robot makes music August 6, 2009 on 9:33 pm

    Ho yeah, gonna model me up a Klein Bong.

    I mean bottle. Klein bottle.

  • Erin April 16, 2010 on 1:58 am

    Question: could this tech be used to make durable edge holding knives and cutting tools or would they be too weak at this point?

  • Erin April 15, 2010 on 9:58 pm

    Question: could this tech be used to make durable edge holding knives and cutting tools or would they be too weak at this point?

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