Protolabs uses a low alloyed copper material for its 3D printing, CuNi2SiCr, which combines good mechanical properties and corrosion resistance with high thermal and electrical conductivity. It opens up opportunities for engineers to develop parts rapidly for harsh environments where pure copper is not a feasible option.
Andrea Landoni, product manager for Protolabs, said: “This development means that engineers can now bring copper parts to market more quickly and cost effectively. It also opens up new design possibilities as additive manufacturing allows you to develop geometries that are not possible using other methods, such as CNC machining. Some internal channels, for example, can create very complex issues.
“Additive manufacturing is not the best answer for every project, however. Unlike most specialist 3D printing companies, we also produce parts using CNC machining and injection moulding.
“For example, if you need higher volumes of copper parts or need to produce a relatively simple geometry, then CNC machining could be a better solution. We offer the best technology for both options, which means our application engineers are ideally placed to advise on all enquiries.”
Protolabs uses direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) technology to 3D print copper parts. It uses a fibre laser system that draws onto a surface of fine metal powder, welding it into fully dense metal parts. Each layer is just 20 microns thick, which produces a smoother surface than other suppliers of 3D printed copper parts.
Depending on the quantity and part geometry, 3D printed copper parts can be produced as fast as one working day, while for CNC machining the company claims to be the fastest supplier in the world with delivery times also possible in a day.