The latest edition of our technology series talks about a unique metal 3D printing technology developed by a Canadian Startup, Rapidia. This Startup was founded in 2016 by Dan Gelbart – an experienced innovator and leader who co-founded a 2D-printing company called Creo. He served as the President and then CTO until July 2005, when it was sold to Kodak for $1 billion. Dan Gelbart went on to establish another company Kardium, a medical device company that has developed a revolutionary atrial fibrillation treatment. Recently, in 2016, he launched Rapidia, a metal 3D printing company.
We take a look at this intriguing water-based metal 3D printing technology developed by Rapidia.
The Journey to Develop Water-based Metal 3D Printing Technology
Above: The Rapidia Metal 3D Printer/Video Credit: Rapidia/YouTube
Metal 3D printing can provide a striking competitive advantage to its users. The advantages lie not only in developing new products but also in running efficient operations. But it is quite a costly proposition and still remains one of the biggest barriers to adoption.
Rapidia, with the aim to provide affordable metal 3D printing solutions developed a new technology that, it believes, has unlocked the true potential of metal 3D printing with its fastest, simplest and most affordable way to 3D print complex and strong metal parts for prototyping and end-use applications.
Rapidia recognised that the existing ‘office-friendly’ metal 3D printing solutions have to follow a three step process of “3D Printing – Sintering – Debinding”. This process is quite lengthy and is also chemical intensive.
The team set out to develop a system that quickly creates even the toughest or most intricate parts, is environmentally friendly and simple to use, and can be installed in a normal office.
The effort led the team to develop a new 3D printing system that uses water-based metal paste, revolutionizing the speed, simplicity and affordability of metal 3D printing.
Water-based Metal 3D Printing Technology
In Rapidia’s new system, the three-step process is reduced to only a two-step process as it completely eliminates the debinding step. This also eliminates the need for chemicals as needed in office-friendly 3D printing systems from competitors like Desktop Metal and Markforged.
In this method, water-based metal paste is used to create complex parts. This paste is solvent-free, safe to handle and unlocks a new world of opportunities. The water-based technology offer multiple benefits as mentioned below:
Rapidia’s water-based metal paste technology is the foundation of the Rapidia metal 3D printing system. It takes the advantages of bound metal 3D printing a step further by accelerating the production process and doing away with solvents. The result is a fast, simple to use system that is environmentally friendly and completely solvent-free.
The Rapidia metal 3D printing system involves only two-steps taking 3D printed parts straight from printer to sinter, with no need to debind. Parts printed with conventional three-stage processes need to be prepared for sintering by dissolving the polymer binder, a process called debinding. This step can take up to 50 hours, and requires treating the printed part with a chemical solvent – a messy and dangerous process in an office. The Rapidia process eliminates debinding by using water to bind the metal powder, making the material safe to handle. The water evaporates during printing, saving time and removing the need for a debinding machine or solvents.
Evaporative Support Structures
The Rapidia metal printing system is the only one able to produce parts with complex internal structures, using proprietary evaporative polymer supports. These supports are unique to Rapidia, and are made possible by the water-based metal paste. By eliminating the debinding stage, polymer supports can be retained until the sintering stage, by which point the part is strong enough to support itself. These evaporative supports are used for almost all supports, substantially reducing post-processing time and cutting the amount of metal wasted on supports by up to 90%.
Water-bonding and Sinter Welding
Above: Water-bonding process explained/Video Credit: Rapidia/YouTube
Rapidia’s water-based metal paste is water soluble, enabling the unique ability to fuse unsintered parts together using only water. Complex assemblies can be created by printing simple parts and attaching them by dipping the area to be joined in water. After sintering, the resulting assembly is as strong as a single part. A similar process can also be used to sinter weld 3D printed parts to machined parts of the same alloy, using the Rapidia metal paste.
Rapidia focuses a lot on developing materials and currently is offers a range of materials like Stainless steel, Inconel, Ceramic, Zirconia, and a few others are at various stages of development.
You can read more about the technology here.
To learn more about 3D printing technologies, you can also read the most comprehensive list of all 3D Printing Technologies found on the web.
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