Liquid Metal Goodness
New 3-D printer beats old process of layering and fusing powdered metal
An industrial engineering professor said a liquid metal printing machine developed by a University at Buffalo student could significantly transform manufacturing. Assistant professor Chi Zhou, a 3-D printing expert, said the Vader Systems machine is much cheaper than using powdered metal. “I can see at this stage that it can complement traditional metal printing, but later, maybe 10 years later, it can dominate the metal printing market because it can print better quality, cheaper and faster,” Zhou said.
Zhou is one of three University at Buffalo faculty advisors to the company, and the Vaders, 24-year-old Zach and his father Scott, have won grants from the school’s Center for Industrial Effectiveness and Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology, along with a National Grid grant through UB.
Zack Vader, now 24, started focusing on metal printing at the university when he couldn’t find a company to 3-D print the parts he needed for a microturbine generator. His breakthrough came when he exposed molten metal in a confined chamber with an orifice to a pulsed magnetic field. The transient field induces a pressure with the metal that ejects a droplet. That was the key to making droplets of liquid metal eject from a nozzle. Most metal printers layer powdered metal, but fusing or melting that metal can create weak spots.