3D printing on titanium – exciting development or cash grab?

3D printing on titanium – exciting development or cash grab?


i.materialize claims to be the first company in the world to offer 3D printing on titanium. And why is that so special, you ask? Titanium has high heat resistance, high accuracy, strength and its the stuff Terminators are made of. According to i.materialize, “Titanium 3D printing opens up an entirely new world of advanced engineering, manufacturing and jewelry applications for creative people worldwide.”  Basically, the 3D printer will churn out your design and it should be pretty true to the design and hard to break. i.materialize gives some examples of what they can do on their blog.

One is the “HeartGrid,” a customizable titanium pendant where the they can etch a special date on a heart for you. There is also an “OurPlace,” which looks like the shape of the United States with a heart where you and your significant other met. I’m not sure I would wear a piece of titanium around my neck, especially not in the shape of the United States, but it is customizable. You can design anything you like, provided you’re willing to dish out $124 for a part 2 by 2 by 4cm with a volume of 1 cubic centimeter.

You can submit designs and look at some of the interesting completed parts other people have done, like 2cm titanium 3D ball you see in the photo. The 3D printing is done with something called Direct Metal Laser Sintering. This involves using a laser to bind titanium powder together, and the process repeats itself until the part is finished. For many parts, there will be support structures to keep the titanium from breaking. Once printed, the supports will have to be removed manually using powerful tools. Then the part will have to be polished to remove evidence of the supports, which means your part could end up looking a little DIY.

If your part is complex and requires a lot of manual labor to remove the structures and polish the piece, you can’t get it for the set price but will have to get a custom quote for it. i.materialize warns you might still be able to see where some of the supports have been removed. You could go so far as making parts for that indestructible titanium nano-bot you’ve been pondering about building. For now, I’ll stick with the wooden jewelry I carved out in shop class.