Introducing Fine Features for Pure Copper on the Metal X
By Ross Adams, Global Metal Product Manager
In traditional manufacturing, pure Copper is a difficult material to work with: its ductility often leads to deformation during subtractive manufacturing operations. As a result, subtractive manufacturing must often settle for Copper alloys, which have less electrical and thermal conductivity.
Pure Copper is generally a challenging material to 3D print, too. Metal AM technologies like Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) often rely on Copper alloys, due to pure copper's reflectivity when interacting with lasers. But unlike subtractive manufacturing and many metal AM technologies, the metal FFF (fused filament fabrication) process is uniquely suited to printing pure Copper.
Now, with the addition of the new Fine Features print setting for pure Copper, you can use your Metal X System for an even wider range of applications — eliminating complications from machining pure Copper, or the need to settle for an alloy. In exchange for longer print times, Fine Features gives users the option to dramatically increase the print quality of pure Copper parts on the Metal X. It requires no special nozzle or other hardware changes; Metal X users will have this capability added to their machine automatically.
The Metal X can deliver the optimal properties of pure Copper while allowing for increased design freedom to achieve complex geometries that would be either impractical or even impossible to produce with subtractive manufacturing. Read this blog to learn the specifics of the new Fine Features print setting, the applications it opens up, and why metal FFF is the ideal technology for printing pure Copper.
Fine Features: even more Copper applications on the Metal X
Fine Features is now available in our slicing software, Eiger, as a new production-ready setting for pure Copper printing with no hardware changes required. Fine Features appears as a new layer height option; however, in the background our engineers have obsessed over optimizing the nozzle temperatures, extrusion rates, and various geometry dependent offsets to deliver a streamlined user experience that is unlocked through an over-the-air (OTA) software update. It dramatically increases print quality at the cost of longer print times, typically ~30% longer.
You may use this setting to achieve smoother surface finish, dimensional accuracy, smaller feature sizes, and higher strength between layers. The ability to 3D print small and intricate features in Copper drives increased performance in thermal and electrical applications — opening the door for Metal X users to achieve further process improvements, cost reduction, or lead time reductions.
Why print pure Copper on the Metal X System?
AM vs. subtractive manufacturing. For subtractive manufacturing processes, pure Copper is notoriously difficult to work with. Its high ductility often causes deformation.
While the inherent nature of the additive manufacturing fabrication process always allows for more design freedom, the introduction of Fine Features on the Metal X allows a level of design freedom that is unprecedented with FFF 3D printing. This allows users to achieve a level of part optimization that would be either impractical or downright impossible to produce with subtractive manufacturing.
Metal X vs. other metal AM processes. Unlike many other metal AM processes such as Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) or Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), the Metal X System’s ability to print in pure Copper is not negatively affected by the material’s high level of reflectivity.
For metal AM processes that use lasers — such as Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) — pure Copper has a low degree of printability from its reflectivity, and often necessitates using Copper Alloys instead. The Metal X System is also much more cost effective: the capital investment, in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars, is just a fraction of the millions a PBF machine costs.
The Metal X System exists to fabricate complex, low volume parts on the most accessible, cost effective, and easy-to-use platform. Engineers print pure Copper on the Metal X System to 1.) streamline design validation with rapid prototyping, 2.) support production with tooling applications, and 3.) produce custom end-use parts for more applications.
Some common applications for pure Copper that our customers are making on the Metal X include:
When should I machine my part versus 3D print it? The decision to either machine a part or 3D print it should be determined by the desired level of performance optimization.
While machining processes impose limitations on part shapes, 3D printing’s design freedom allows users to create complex geometries that can optimize an application’s functionality.
Conformal cooling channels can be integrated into a design to induce turbulence and optimize cooling. Complex lattice geometries can be designed to maximize the surface area to volume ratio, optimizing heat transfer for rapid cooling. For designs that must fit within a compact assembly, complex features can navigate through tight areas to reduce the form factor.
About the Metal X System
The Metal X System is the most accessible, end-to-end 3D printing solution for functional metal parts. It is much safer, affordable, and easier to use than alternative metal 3D printing processes. On the Metal X, users can produce complex industrial parts in as little as a day.
The Metal X System uses an additive manufacturing process called Metal FFF (fused filament fabrication). Metal FFF works by incorporating processes from metal injection molding (MIM) into the FFF printing process used for plastics and composites. FFF 3D printers work by extruding a spool filament through a hot nozzle to additively build a part layer by layer. Filaments come in different sizes and materials ranging from prototype plastics, industrial thermoplastics, and metals.
Metal FFF is capable of printing in a wide variety of metals: such as Tool Steels, Stainless Steels, pure Copper, and superalloys such as Inconel 625. The filament uses a formulation of metal powder bound by polymer and wax, similar to MIM feedstock. Instead of injecting it into a mold, it extrudes the filament through a heated nozzle to form the part layer by layer. After the printing process is complete, the subsequent two steps follow the same procedure as MIM: chemical debinding and sintering in an inert atmosphere furnace.
3D printing pure Copper and other materials on the Metal X
Would you like to learn more about Fine Features for Copper? Click here to get in touch with a Product Specialist to discuss the Copper Fine Features Design Guide.
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