When it comes to 3D printing, polymers have always been the most popular material to use since they’re the easiest sturdy material to manipulate. Though an advantageous process, printing with metals has presented an understandable challenge. The most recent innovation in printing with metals came in 2014, when Philips-owned company Smit Röntgen announced that they had a process for printing with pure tungsten. Tungsten, which is a highly functional “aerospace metal“ has the highest melting point of all the metals at 3422°C.
Smit Röntgen is an imaging company that spent a decade developing a process to print metal parts using tungsten. Their process uses laser melting technology to produce solid parts from this metal, which can be tricky to work with because of its high melting point.
Aside from that, another drawback of the Smit Röntgen process is the long production time. It can take a minimum of 48 hours for a design to go from CAD model to solid product. However, the process is still being refined. It goes without saying that 3D printing with tungsten has generated quite a bit of interest in the aerospace and medical industries, where there is always a need for faster, higher quality, more cost efficient ways to produce needed metal parts. For example, balance weights, trim weights, and counterweights for flight control surfaces. Tungsten has qualities that make it ideal for use within these industries, one of which being its very high melting point. Tungsten is also excellent at absorbing x-rays, and also withstanding high temperatures. Tungsten is also an environmentally safe metal and RoHS compliant.
As a representative from Smith Röntgen explained, “When talking to major players in medical and non-medical fields, it becomes evident that being able to 3D print pure Tungsten parts does attract global attention. By mastering this technique, the possibilities for creating new innovative products and niche markets are endless,” As 3D printing becomes more developed, we will not only find faster ways of printing metal components, but perhaps also find ways of printing parts with other metals.