Toshiba Previews 3D-Printer Prototype that Can Fabricate Metal Objects

toshiba 3d printer

Toshiba’s prototype 3D printer.

Toshiba Corporation and Toshiba Machine of Tokyo today announced that they’ve jointly developed a prototype 3D printer that prints with metal and delivers speeds of more than 10 times faster than that of powder-bed fusion printers.

Toshiba explains that 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, creates objects by depositing successive layers of material on a substrate in a manner somewhat similar that of to inkjet printing. However, while inket printing is 2D, 3D printing can translate computer-aided design (CAD) plans into three-dimensional objects, building multiple layers into highly complex shapes.

Toshiba’s new 3D printer, which is designed for manufacturing applications, uses laser metal deposition (LMD) technology that deposits powdered metal and uses tandem laser beams. The laser heats the powder and sinters it, so that it fuses into a shaped agglomeration. The company says the key to its 3D printer’s high-speed operation is a new nozzle based on Toshiba’s knowledge in fluid-simulation technology. The nozzle reduces the area to which metal particles are injected, and the laser beam focuses very precisely on the tiny area covered by the powder. It says its prototype 3D printer achieves a fabrication speed of 110cc an hour with an 800-watt laser output, and can build larger structures at a lower cost than current methods.

The 3D printer can use a a wide range of materials to print objects, including stainless steel, Inconel, and iron.

Toshiba and Toshiba Machine say they’ll continue to develop the prototype, seeking to increases fabrication speed and resolution, and to fine-tune interfacing with 3D CAD software. The companies aim to bring the printer into practical use in or after 2017.

Toshiba Machine will manufacture the LMD 3D printers and market them to customers, along with its computer-controlled machine tools. Toshiba will use LMD 3D printers to manufacture parts for social infrastructure systems, in order to improve production efficiency.

The 3D metal printer development project is sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) under its program “Technological Development for Next-Generation Industrial 3D Printers and Ultra-High-Precision 3D Shaping Systems.”

Toshiba will showcase its new 3D printer prototype at “Monozukuri Matching Japan 2015” at Tokyo Big Sight December 2-4.

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