Strong, Yet Light: Introducing Aluminum

Posted by in Materials

When you think about Aluminum, what comes to mind? Huge sheets that are turned into car and machine parts? Or maybe you think of everyday household items like Aluminum foil or soda cans. Whatever you think of, you probably never thought you could turn it into an amazing product yourself.

Until now, that is.

Today we welcome Aluminum to our materials portfolio – it’s the perfect material for tools, drone parts and gadgets and is incredibly unique in the way it is made and how it can be used.

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(Klein Bottle Opener by Bathsheba)

Aluminum was introduced as a pilot material last year, and since then we’ve been busy working with community members to perfect this amazing material. While all new materials are exciting to introduce, we’re so glad to start 2016 off with Aluminum because it really showcases how far the 3D printing industry has come and where it’s headed in the future.

Whether you’re a Shapeways pro and have been designing with us for years, or you’re thinking about trying 3D printing for the first time, Aluminum might just be the perfect material for you!

Why is it so cool?

First, a few facts to get you familiar with this new material. Our 3D printed Aluminum has:

  • The highest strength to weight ratio of all our materials
  • High corrosion resistance
  • High thermal conductivity
  • The ability to support interlocking parts

As many of you already know, we have offered various metals for years. However, Aluminum is unique because of the way we are able to print it. Using a process called selective laser melting (SLM), the material is directly melted and fused from a bed of metallic powder that results in a solid alloy. It is similar to the selective laser sintering (SLS) process we use to manufacture Strong and Flexible Plastic. However, in SLM the high power laser provides enough energy to fully melt the metallic powder, which is then quickly cooled to solidify the metal. The outcome is a strong, homogenous and high tolerance metal part that can result in shapes and designs that are impossible to create through traditional manufacturing methods.

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(Horse Shoe and Ring Puzzle by stop4stuff)

What can I make?

One of the biggest advantages of Aluminum is its high strength and low weight, making it ideal for products that need to stay light but be able to handle a high load – the exact reason it is used for flight and automotive applications.  However, if you’re not planning on building a plane anytime soon, our Aluminum is perfect for:

  • Gadgets ( robotics, gears, desk toys, etc.)
  • Drone parts (arm extensions, camera mounts, landing gears, etc.)
  • Tools (bottle openers, multi-tools, custom jigs, etc.)

Those familiar with building robotics know that weight and weight distribution is extremely important, and Aluminum is a popular metal used to minimize the weight of a frame and platform for various designs. Similarly, those designing drone accessories want a material that can withstand a rocky landing, or even an unfortunate crash. Aluminum can help to absorb that impact and protect your drone and camera. Its strength lends itself to being protective and is frequently used for casings for laptops, phones, sports equipment and more. And of course, it’s strong enough to open any bottle you might need!

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(Shark Bottle Opener by AndyZoer)

How do I get started?

Check out the Aluminum material page to hear our Materials Product Manager, Blair, tell you more about Aluminum and how it can work for you. You will also find everything you need to know about design guidelines so you can make sure your product will successfully print in Aluminum.

If you already have a drone part, bottle opener, etc. that you’ve printed with us before, give it a try in this new material and see how it works. Have a new design you want to test out? Upload it, make an order and within a couple of weeks you’ll have your very own 3D printed Aluminum design! For those of you new to 3D modeling, be sure to check out this page to be connected with a designer who can help bring your idea to life. If you have any questions along the way, reach out to our Community Manager, Andrew, at andrew@shapeways.com or on the forums and he’ll guide you along.

Aluminum is the 54th material we’ve introduced to our portfolio, and it certainly isn’t our last. Keep a lookout for new materials throughout the year and in the meantime, let us know below what materials you want to see next!

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9 comments

  1. Jim

    The material page says 1.0mm minimum thickness but the model check page says 0.1mm – which should it be?

    1. Adela

      Hi Jim, the thickness should be 1 mm. Thanks for catching this! The issue has been reported and we’re working on fixing it!

  2. Jim Fackert

    If it could be made slightly porous, this would be the ideal material for making vacuum forming tooling/molds. A small degree of porosity that transmits some of the vacuum through the material would assure good draw-down. Is this possible?

    the other option would be to design small through holes to evacuate pockets quickly, but that is a bit of a pain and its hard to be sure you have covered all of the areas of concern.

    Aluminum is good for vac form tooling because it will cool the hot plastic sheet as it is drawn tight to the mold, and it will handle the transmitted heat well.

  3. stop4stuff

    Thanks for featuring my Horseshoes and Ring puzzle.
    It’s great that it might now be possible to print sheets of aluminium chainmaille 🙂

  4. Angela Bond

    If there was some way to print the equivalent of carbon fiber, well all your printers would have a meltdown cuz i would never stop submitting print jobs to you!

  5. merrel marlin

    I would like to see some silver or any other kind of MESH jewelry you have to offer. I also asked you to please email me all of your white, red and black jewelry except rings and pierced earrings. Tx. merrelm80@gmail.com

  6. Anton S

    I wonder if the machine printed aluminum material directly.
    If yes, may I know the brand?

    1. mkroeker

      German company SLM Solutions was named in the corresponding announcement thread in the customer forum, the machine appears to be an SLM-500

  7. Merritt white

    Can’t wait to print my FSAl fly reel out of Aluminum!!!

    The big question is when will you guys be printing out of Titanium!????

Comments are closed.