The Virtual Foundry, a manufacturer of metal filaments, has named Chicago-based Sapphire 3D as the first certified sintering partner for its plastic-infused metal filaments. Using a combination of The Virtual Foundry’s Filamet products and Sapphire 3D’s heat treating technology, users can produce high-quality and high-purity metal components.
The Virtual Foundry currently offers a range of plastic-infused metal filaments, including aluminum, bronze, copper, high carbon iron, stainless steel filaments and more. The company’s materials, which each contain a high amount of metal mixed with an extrudable plastic, can be printed like most standard filaments (only slightly slower) and most can be post-processed using sintering equipment.
For this last step, Sapphire 3D has emerged as the Virtual Foundry’s official partner. As Tricia Suess, President of The Virtual Foundry, explained: “In addition to their proficiency with our materials, the team at Sapphire 3D also shares our vision, which is to make metal 3D printing attainable to everyone.”
The sintering process is key for many metal 3D printed parts, as it effectively burns away any binder or plastic material, resulting in a dense, fully metal component. The process can be complicated, however, as sintering times and temperatures vary depending on the part’s structure and material.
“Successfully sintering a metal part involves some trial and error,” said David Lawson, Founder of Sapphire 3D. ”The decisions you make during part design and printing affect the outcome of the sintering process. That’s why my partner Joe Divizio and I will often work directly with our clients to help them optimize those first two steps.”
Sapphire 3D and The Virtual Foundry have worked together extensively in the past, and Sapphire 3D has kept a database of every single sintering cycle it has performed using Filamet materials. With this data, the sintering company has achieved 100% success rates with The Virtual Foundry’s copper and bronze materials, as well as high success with its stainless steel 316L.
The high success rate as well as the company’s familiarity with The Virtual Foundry’s metal filaments means that Sapphire 3D can help end users save money in the post-printing process.
“Most manufacturers today are investigating metal additive manufacturing, but they’re wary of the investment it requires. For many companies, using a sintering partner like Sapphire 3D is a very economical way to start,” Suess added. “They can help you work through a variety of part design, printing and sintering issues to ensure that you can create the highest-quality metal parts.
“As you become more knowledgeable about designing for additive manufacturing with metal and its unique post-production requirements, you can always invest in your own sintering equipment later.”