Desktop Metal, Burlington, Massachusetts, USA, has announced the launch of pure copper for use with its Studio SystemTM, a Material Extrusion (MEX) Additive Manufacturing machine designed for low-volume production.
Due to its high thermal and electrical conductivity, copper is considered an ideal material for transferring heat or electricity and is used in virtually every electronic device made, as well as many of the heat exchangers used across a variety of industries, including oil and gas, automotive, and consumer products.
In laser-based Additive Manufacturing processes such as Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB), copper alloys are often used, as pure copper would be extremely difficult to process using this method. However, using Desktop Metal’s proprietary ‘Bound Metal DepositionTM‘ process, a form of Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), the Studio System is able to build parts in pure copper, enabling users to take full advantage of the material’s benefits.
“Known for its excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, copper is a highly desired material for a variety of industries and applications, such as heat exchangers and electrical components for heavy industries to consumer products,” stated Jonah Myerberg, CTO and co-founder of Desktop Metal. “Whether for heat sinks, electrical motor and power grid components, or resistance welding electrodes, 3D printed copper on the Studio System is an ideal choice for manufacturing parts featuring s geometries.”
Early customer applications said to demonstrate the material’s benefits include:
Manufacturing: Electrode Holder
Electrode holders hold electrodes in position during resistive nut welding. Additively manufactured in copper, the part features internal conformal cooling channels to improve temperature regulation. Electrodes are consumable and need to be replaced quickly and affordably when they wear out to keep the manufacturing line up and running. Using copper in combination with conformal cooling channels helps to pull heat off the electrode, better regulating the temperature, thus leading to a better weld and a longer part lifetime.
Automotive: Motor Heat Sink
Heat exchangers are designed to help dissipate heat from an electric motor while the motor operates, keeping the motor closer to its ideal operating temperature. The Studio System allows the production of copper heat exchangers that conform to the motor shape and thus distribute heat more efficiently from the motor to the surrounding environment. The tall, thin fins in this motor heat sink are easily customised using AM on the Studio System, whereas they are more challenging to manufacture via machining, due to chattering as the fins are cut.
Chemical Processing: Helical Heat Exchanger
Helical heat exchangers are used to cool hot gas as it flows through a pipe. The Studio System allowed the production of a heat exchanger with an internal helical channel through which cooling fluid can flow. The complex geometry of that channel can only be made with Additive Manufacturing.
Electric Power Distribution: Bus Bar
Bus bars are used for local high-current power distribution. As power is being transferred, the bus bar begins to get hot, and internal cooling channels help to regulate the temperature. Copper’s excellent thermal conductivity value ensures that heat is efficiently transferred from the bus bar to the coolant. The bus bar’s design features complex cooling channels running through its core. Using the Studio System, the bus bar can easily be built as a single copper part complete with internal cooling features. Using traditional methods, the channels would require a multi-part assembly to create the final part.
In addition to copper, the Studio System’s materials library includes 4140 chromoly steel, H13 tool steel, and 316L and 17-4 PH stainless steel. In addition to those materials already available, the company states that its team of materials scientists is continuously working to develop new materials and processes to make AM accessible to broader industries and applications.