ESA-supported startup TIWARI Scientific Instruments in Germany has developed low-cost 3D printer, the RAPTOR, which is capable of 3D printing a variety of metals and ceramics using a bound powder filament extrusion process. While the 3D printer is similar to other systems now available in the market – such as those introduced by Nanoe and Triditive among others – TIWARI was able to leverage support from ESA to validate four metal and ceramic materials for space and other applications.
TIWARI’s process uses thermoplastic filaments that are embedded with particles of the metal or ceramic the part is to be made from. Once the printing is finished, the green part is put through a thermal treatment to eliminate the plastic, leaving behind a metal or ceramic item.
“Once this plastic-containing body goes through this treatment then what is left behind is pure metal or ceramic,” explained ESA non-metallic materials and processes engineer Ugo Lafont. “The result is high-quality parts with very good physical properties. So this cheap, simple technique can offer us additional part manufacturing capability for space applications with an expanded pallet of materials.”
Test parts made using the extrusion process in stainless steel and titanium metals, as well as aluminia and silicon carbide ceramics underwent a full-scale campaign of non-destructive and destructive testing at the Materials and Electrical Components Laboratory of ESA’s ESTEC technical centre in the Netherlands, assessing their added value and suitability for space.
According to ESA the parts possess enhanced mechanical performance compared to their conventionally made equivalents – for instance, stainless steel can be elongated to a previously unachievable 100% without breaking.
TIWARI is a startup hosted at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre Hessen & Baden-Württemberg in Germany, specialising in instruments for thermal characterisation of materials as well as 3D printing of high-performance metals and ceramics.
“Desktop 3D printers have become cheaper and cheaper in recent years and there’s been a lot of interest in mixing in materials with traditional print stock,” explained company founder Siddharth Tiwari. “But our company’s particular focus has really been on understanding the process thoroughly and investigating the kind of thermal and mechanical properties we can achieve.
“So this test campaign with ESA was part of our strategic planning from the start, to help commercialise the technology. At a time when other companies are still speculating about the properties achievable with 3D printed parts we have tested and qualified not one but four separate materials.
“This means we’ve ended up with a database no other company possesses, thanks to being able to make use of ESA resources – which otherwise would have cost many tens of thousands of euros. And the fact that our parts make the grade for space helps us in terrestrial markets too.”
The collaboration between the ESA and TIWARI on the testing and evaluation of the 3D printed parts has been facilitated by ESA’s Technology Transfer and Patent Office.
“We hope to offer an affordable solution to a market often put off by the high prices associated with additive manufacturing,” added Siddharth Tiwari. “Our company offers one of the best price-to-performance ratio in the market, and we have launched an online estimation tool allowing customers to check how much the customised parts they require will cost.”