Imagine making your own toys, cellphone cases or Christmas decorations at home!
Scientists have developed a low-cost, freely available and open-source 3-D metal printer, meaning anyone can use it to print their own metallic objects.
Until now, 3D printing has been a polymer affair, with most manufacturers using the machines to make all manner of plastic consumer goods, from tent stakes to chess sets.
The new 3D printer developed by Michigan Technological University's Joshua Pearce and his team could add hammers to that list.
The detailed plans, software and firmware are all freely available and open-source, meaning anyone can use them to make their own metal 3D printer, scientists said.
"Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it," said Pearce.
"Within a month, somebody will make one that's better than ours, I guarantee it," Pearce said.
Using under USD 1,500 worth of materials, including a small commercial MIG welder and an open-source micro-controller, Pearce's team built a 3D metal printer than can lay down thin layers of steel to form complex geometric objects.
Commercial metal printers are available, but they cost over half a million dollars.
His 'make-it-yourself' metal printer is less expensive than off-the-shelf commercial plastic 3D printers and is affordable enough for home use, he said.
While metal 3D printing opens new vistas, it also raises anew the specter of homemade firearms. Some people have already made guns with both commercial metal and plastic 3D printers, with mixed results, researchers said.
Pearce believes that the good to come from all types of distributed manufacturing with 3D printing will far outweigh the dangers.
Expanded 3D printing would benefit people in the developing world, in particular, who have limited access to manufactured goods, and researchers, who can radically cut costs of scientific equipment, Pearce said.
The study was published in the journal IEEE Access.