These gears – pictured above with a euro-cent coin for scale – are produced in stainless steel in a standard quality space, using more than one desktop 3D printer.
ESA-assisted TIWARI Scientific Instruments has developed a technique launched in Germany that enables low-cost 3D printing using a variety of metals and ceramics. Making precision parts from these high-performance materials would typically cost both time and money, but the company can instead adapt them to standard 3D printing techniques.
TIWARI’s “Fused Filament Fabrication” (FFF) printing process uses thermoplastic filaments embedded with the metal or ceramic to be made into the piece. Once the printing is complete, the piece – known as the “green body” – is placed through a heat treatment to remove the plastic, leaving a metal or ceramic element behind.
“After this treatment with this plastic body, all that remains is pure metal or ceramics,” explains ESA non-metallic materials and process engineer Ugo Lafont. “The result is high quality pieces with very good physical properties. So this inexpensive and simple technique can provide us with the added capability to manufacture parts with those with an expanded pallet of materials for space applications. ”
Tests on stainless steel and titanium metals through the FFF process have led to a full-scale campaign of destructive and destructive testing of aluminum ceramic and silicon carbide ceramics in the Laboratory of Materials and Electrical Components of the ESA ESTEC Technical Center in the Netherlands, with added value and evaluation.
It has been a surprise that the parts have better mechanical performance compared to the usual equivalents. For example, stainless steel can be stretched to 100% that was not previously available without breaking.
TIWARI is a startup organized by ESA’s Hessen & Baden-Württemberg ESA Business Incubation Center in Germany, specializing in thermal characterization tools and 3D printing of high-performance metals and ceramics.
“Desktop 3D printers have become cheaper and cheaper in recent years and there is a lot of interest in mixing materials with traditional printing,” explains company founder Siddharth Tiwari. “But our company’s particular focus has been on understanding the process well and researching the thermal and mechanical properties we can achieve.
“So this test campaign with ESA was part of our strategic planning from the beginning to help market the technology. At a time when other companies are still speculating about the properties that can be achieved with 3D printed parts, we tested and classified four materials.
“This means that we have ended up with a database that no other company has, because we can take advantage of ESA resources – otherwise it would cost a lot of ten thousand euros.” And the fact that our pieces have a space rating also helps us in land markets. ”
The collaboration between ESA and TIWARI has been facilitated by the ESA Technology Transfer and Patent Office for the testing and evaluation of 3D printed parts.
“We hope to provide a cheap solution to the market where high prices associated with additional manufacturing often leave us,” adds Siddharth Tiwari. “Our company offers one of the best price-performance ratios on the market, and we have launched an online estimation tool to verify how much the custom parts required by customers will cost.”