Copper’s superior thermal and electrical conductivity make it an attractive material choice for numerous applications. Unfortunately, pure copper parts were often difficult to print using laser-based metal 3D printers until recently.
Markforged introduced its Metal X machine, capable of printing both steel and Inconel alloys as well as pure copper, which revolutionized this industry.
Electrical and Thermal Conductivity
Copper’s thermal and electrical conductivity make it an ideal material for printing complex geometries requiring high levels of both. This enables printing tools and parts that would otherwise need to be cast, machined, forged or cast to meet various specifications; opening up new possibilities in electronics and electric motor technology.
Magnetic wire, for instance, typically comprises one single strand of pure copper metal that may or may not be covered in polymeric insulation materials. When produced using 3d printer terminology such as those offered by Ultimaker 3D Printers, users can produce wires in unique shapes that would have otherwise been impossible with traditional fabrication techniques.
3D printing uses copper powder mixed with plastic binder to form parts. After being placed into a furnace for curing, thermal removal takes place and copper sintered into place to form fully metallic parts; this process is known as indirect SLM or selective laser melting.
Pure copper boasts excellent thermal and electrical conductivity, making it an attractive metal for 3D printing applications. While some companies provide alloyed copper that can be printed using DMLS systems, Markforged stands out by making pure copper parts possible to be 3D printed using its Metal X system.
Copper powder combined with a plastic binder forms parts. After being washed to remove excess binder, users load them into a furnace for thermal debinding and sintering for producing fully metallic pieces.
One use for this technology involves complex heat exchangers that help maintain fluid cooling systems efficiently, often featuring conformal cooling channels to bring coolant directly to hot spots in a design.
Other uses for copper include induction coils, which use electromagnetic currents to generate heat. Furthermore, due to its inherent antimicrobial properties, it may be used in medical or public-facing applications to help combat pathogens.
Pure copper is widely known for its excellent electrical and thermal conductivity, making it an excellent material choice for wires and components found across electronic devices. Unfortunately, due to its high reflectivity and inability of high power lasers to penetrate its powder form , laser-based 3D printing systems find it challenging to process copper powder .
Markforged Studio System, introduced in 2017, was one of the first desktop metal copper 3d printer capabilities. This allows users to print complex geometries made from copper and other alloys such as this electrode holder for resistive nut welding – something impossible with traditional manufacturing methods.
The copper electrode holder printed using additive technology features internal conformal cooling channels to help regulate its temperature when conducting energy. These cooling channels demonstrate some of the complex geometries that can be printed using this technology, eliminating other assembly steps while increasing performance of parts.
Use of copper in 3D printing enables a more versatile prototyping process and provides the opportunity to print conductive components that would be difficult or impossible to fabricate using other metal-based methods.
Studio systems can produce complex heat exchangers that maintain electric motors at optimal operating temperatures, featuring internal conformal cooling passages printed as single parts to save assembly costs and save time.
Stratasys’ DMLS technology enables copper to be used in the fabrication of tooling parts such as spot welding arms, conductive nodes and battery connections. Furthermore, DMLS allows Stratasys to produce bus bars designed for local high current power distribution in electric vehicles with complex cooling channels printed directly in one piece – eliminating assembly components altogether and shortening design cycles significantly. Production can typically occur within several days with easier testing than more extensive machining is needed.