University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
The Integrated and Advanced Manufacturing Research Group at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria conducts research into manufacturing processes. The group’s studies encompass various established research areas, including polymer processing, additive manufacturing, natural fibers, and biomanufacturing.
The university research group’s activities focus on university courses, public and private research. Most research projects are publicly funded with the goal of generating knowledge and developing R&D and innovative technologies for society. However, projects are also developed for various types of private entities in fields such as aeronautics, metallurgy, and agriculture.
The objective is to develop Copper EDM Electrodes using Markforged Metal FFF technology. The primary goal is to leverage state-of-the-art technology for addressing new challenges and discovering innovative manufacturing solutions. Metal X and similar systems are acquired for R&D in producing metal components using additive manufacturing, complementing the various conventional processes the research group employs (subtractive manufacturing, casting, and deformation).
The focus is on the development of EDM Electrodes. Spark erosion is a technique primarily used to manufacture complex parts from hard or difficult-to-machine metals. Generally, it works with conducting materials, but insulating ceramics can also be processed under certain conditions.
In June 2021, the client selected the Markforged Metal X 3D and Mark Two printers. These were chosen specifically because they are the only printers capable of conducting R&D on high-performance metal and thermoplastic compounds.
Adopting Markforged technology provided state-of-the-art additive manufacturing equipment, serving as a reference not only for the Integrated and Advanced Manufacturing group but also for other groups working in biomechanics, prosthetics, etc. Using innovative technology allows the research group to address highly complex problems, increasing their prominence by finding solutions for more intricate challenges.
Markforged not only offers economically competitive technologies but also contributes experience and knowledge in equipment development, simplifying part production from the beginning while minimizing the likelihood of errors.
“Metal laser sintering technologies are considered an alternative to additive manufacturing. The cost of these technologies is higher, but they don’t always produce a better surface quality,” says Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez, an Industrial Engineer and lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The group faced challenges related to the financial cost of investment and the inability to produce metal parts with complex geometric designs using their own equipment at a reasonable price.
– Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez, Industrial Engineer & Lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering“We are currently developing several applications with Markforged technology, such as functional prototypes and medical implants, but being able to produce copper electrodes with complex geometric designs let us find solutions for unexpected challenges in the spark erosion field.”
“Apart from the gas infrastructure required for Metal X Markforged technology, it was easy to incorporate this technology due to its compact size and simple technical requirements,” continues Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.
The parts printed with the two Markforged printers were small test pieces, and the initial developments focused on finding a solution for producing copper EDM electrodes.
Copper, one of the materials compatible with Metal X technology, is the ideal material for EDM electrodes. This opens up a range of possibilities for manufacturing copper electrodes using Metal X technology.
There are numerous applications depending on the materials. In the field of research, most available materials offer a wide range of intriguing possibilities; the materials used depend on the specific research project.
“For the staff using the equipment, this increased their technical capacities, and promoted self-esteem as they’re developing new components or solving problems, things that just weren’t possible until now,” says Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.
Metal fused filament fabrication (FFF) is an innovative additive manufacturing process capable of creating complex metal parts from materials like copper, among others. One of its advantages is the new opportunities it presents for Rapid Tooling. This work involves developing a copper electrode using metal FFF technology for Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) and comparing its performance to conventional electrolytic copper.
Density, electrical conductivity, and X-ray energy-dispersive spectroscopy tests were conducted for the initial analysis of the Markforged and electrolytic electrodes. Experiments were performed on previous EDM designs, and optimizations were implemented using genetic algorithms to establish a comparative framework for both electrodes.
Then, final spark erosion tests were carried out to evaluate the wear rate of the electrodes, the roughness of the part, and the material removal rate for both electrodes. EDM results demonstrate that Metal FFF technology can be used to manufacture functional EDM electrodes with material removal rates and part roughness comparable to conventional electrodes but with higher electrode wear. This is primarily due to internal porosity, voids, and other imperfections observed using field emission scanning electron microscopy.
As a research center that purchases equipment with public funds, there isn’t a conventional return on investment as in the private sector. However, given the development and innovation possibilities associated with Markforged technology, it’s fair to say that this technology not only leads to long-term savings in the manufacturing phase but also facilitates the acquisition of new funds and resources.
“Thanks to the promising results with Markforged technology, it’s highly likely our research center will implement other technologies from the same company in the future,” concludes Pablo Rubén Bordón Pérez.
+ Produced fully functional EDM electrodes
+ Densities and conductivities in similar ranges
+ Similar roughness (German standard, VDI) and material removal rate
+ Higher Markforged electrode wear rate
+ New opportunities for manufacturing complex electrodes
+ SEM ANALYSIS Markforged Metal X System (Metal FFF)
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Additive Manufacturing in Education: UMass Amherst ADDFab
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