Massachusetts-based 3D printing company Markforged is now one of a small handful of companies in the AM industry offering a copper 3D printing material. Today, the company announced the release of pure Copper for its Metal X 3D printer, which will enable the production of complex copper components with high electrical and thermal conductivity.
Copper is the latest addition to Markforged’s Metal X material portfolio, joining Inconel 625, 17-4 PH Stainless Steel, H13 Tool Steel, D2 Tool Steel and A2 Tool Steel. The new copper material, available in filament form, will be suitable for a broad range of applications, most notably in the electronics and automotive industries.
“Copper powers our world,” said Greg Mark, CEO and Founder of Markforged. “It’s everywhere. It builds our cars, enables phones and keeps electrical equipment running. Copper has traditionally been an expensive and challenging material to machine and incompatible for 3D printing in a pure form with other techniques. Now, we’ve made it easier and cheaper to produce. Markforged 3D printed Copper will be a game-changer for the automotive and electronics industries, and it will open the door to innovation across many more.”
As Mark points out, copper (Cu) has been a notoriously challenging material to 3D print. With laser-based systems, for instance, the use of pure copper powder has presented difficulties because of the reflectivity of the material. To date, only a small number of companies have successfully 3D printed pure copper, including Optomec and GE Additive. Other companies, like SLM Solutions, have developed copper alloys that are printable and still maintain the benefits of copper.
The copper material for the Metal X offers high thermal and electrical conductivity, including thermal conductivity greater than 350 W/mK and 84% IACS electrical conductivity. The material will also enable manufacturers to reap the properties of copper while also exploiting the design freedom of additive manufacturing.
Lead time and cost benefits for automotive
Leading up to the release of its Copper 3D printing material, Markforged partnered with an automotive manufacturer to conduct in-depth weld testing. After thousands of welds, the automotive company was reportedly thrilled with the results, as the printed copper parts demonstrated the same resistance as traditional spot welding shanks. Further, with 3D printing, Markforged’s automotive partner said it decreased lead times by 12x and part costs by 6x.
“Every automotive factory in the world uses copper for welding,” said Mark. “Complex production parts are required to weld tight spots of the car body. They cost thousands of dollars to make and can have months-long lead times. But Markforged is changing all of that by enabling manufacturers to produce parts in-house so they get them faster and for significantly lower costs. With our 3D printed parts, automotive manufacturers can print the parts they need on demand instead of holding significant inventory and will be able to design new kinds of welding shanks that were never before possible.”
“Now that we’ve successfully evaluated weld testing, we plan on expanding our metal 3D printing capacity for this and other metal components,” added the maintenance manager at the automotive partner company. “3D printing copper with Markforged is faster and more cost effective than purchasing complex machined components, and we expect it to help us mitigate downtime exposure and reduce inventory costs by $200,000 a year using only one Metal X system.”