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3D-printed ceramics and metals might finally arrive this year

That is, if Formlabs and Ability 3D get their way.
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Remember 3D printing? A couple years ago it was hotly tipped to revolutionize manufacturing, since you could have a whole factory in your home! Except, really, it wouldn't, because spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a box to make cute plastic doodads wasn't really what most folks wanted. A few years later, having a 3D printer at home is still generally unnecessary, but that may change, and soon. Ish.

Formlabs, for instance, has turned up at CES touting an experimental resin that can enable people to create ceramic objects with regular 3D printing. Ceramic particles are suspended inside the resin, which prints out just as the plastic currently used for additive manufacturing. But when you fire your new creation in an oven, it hardens just like a regular piece of ceramic, suitable for glazing and use just like the real thing. Unfortunately, it's just a demo for now, but the company is hoping to develop the material ready for wider consumption this year.

Then there's 3D printing with metal, which is seen as something of a holy grail for many industries looking to craft tools, parts and devices. It's possible right now, using sintering, and is both costly and time-consuming in a way that means it's outside the reach of most hobbyists. Florida startup Ability 3D is looking to change that with its metal addictive manufacturing 3D printer that's actually designed for the home — or, at least, workshop or garage.


The unit has been set up like a regular 3D printing, but the head has been swapped out for a MIG welder on a moving plate. It can accept regular MIG welding wire, enabling it to produce doodads out of aluminum, steel and stainless steel. But one innovation that the company is proud to talk about is the addition of a trimming bit to clean up printed objects. For instance, we saw this block of solid aluminum (pictured) that had been printed and polished across four layers.

The company was founded by Ben Willard, a 3D printer technician, and his wife Nicholl Hyatt, who is in marketing. Hyatt explained that Willard grew tired of "waiting around for MakerBot" to build a printer that could handle metal. As such, he was motivated to develop his own, which he plans to launch on Kickstarter in March.



At $3,000 it isn't cheap, but considering the potential of the device to empower hobbyists to produce metal components, it may be quite a big deal. Hyatt also said that she's had a lot of interest from classic car fans looking to craft replacement parts that are otherwise unavailable. Point is, we may be close to the day when 3D printing doesn't instantly bring to mind images of useless tchotchkes.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from CES 2017.

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