3D printing, additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping– these three terms are now huge buzzwords all over the world and are taking it all in their stride. More and more companies are realizing the value of rapid prototyping services in their industrial production lines and are keen in adapting the technology; trying to integrate it in their own factories. Assembly line production gives only the advantage of making the same things again and again, leaving little room for customization. 3D printing and rapid prototyping recognize the fact that every customer has different demands, every device might need specialized sensitive parts that are otherwise impossible to customize to a degree that rapid prototyping has made possible.
Zack Vader, a New York based engineer from Buffalo has been dreaming about cutting edge 3D printing and rapid prototyping technologies since a very young age. By the time the innovator and visionary turned eighteen, the young maker began to develop his idea for a potentially game changing technology in the industry of 3D printing. All this happened in the year 2011. Today, the continuous development and research efforts by Zack and his father Scott Vader (we sure were very tempted to write Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader but let’s just keep things sane here) who happens to be a thirty year old engineer in the field has initiated their own company- Vader Systems. Vader Systems happens to be one of the only two companies in the world that is adding to the efforts of liquid metal 3D printing, and also are manufacturers of liquid metal 3D printing solutions. The other company happens to be an Israel based startup called XJet. They claim that their version of liquid metal 3D printers use nanotechnology to specially condition the liquid metals to be used seamlessly as printer inks. These inks can fully form metal objects accurately in a short time. The Vader family in the meantime has been developing very unique 3D printing systems of their own. This device uses their ready to be patented technology- the MagnetoJet (more pop culture references here) in their 3D printing system- the Mk1.
The First Liquid Metal 3D Printing Efforts
One of the limitations of traditional manufacturing of metal parts is that it is a time consuming and expensive process, often rather limited in what parts can be made. The required parts either have to be made with the help of a mold or machine tooled; hence there remain significant limitations on the complexity of the parts that can be produced with these methods. If the required parts have an odd shape or are complex beyond the capacity of the methods, it is simply not possible to manufacture them. This is a limitation that even metal 3D printing faces, which happens to be faster than traditional manufacturing methods that work on metal. Metal 3D printing is a laborious process, is far too expensive and even large companies struggle to handle the technology’s expenses.
The first ever liquid metal innovation came from an Israeli startup company called Xjet. They developed an inkjet technology that allowed the production of customized metal objects at considerably low cost and time, compared to other technological methods in the market. Their patented Nano Metal Jetting technology was used by the world’s first three dimensional metal jetting system, using nanotechnology to produce special liquid metals that are suitable to be used at 3D printer inks. These can help the rapid prototyping of fully formed metal objects accurately and speedily. These proprietary liquefied metals contain real nanoparticles of metals suspended within a specially made liquid solution. This solution is usually enclosed within a tube shaped cartridge that is to be inserted directly into the metal 3D printing device.
The Way of the Vaders
The journey of Vader Systems first began when a young Zack was trying to produce a turbine generator run with micro gas. However, the production and manufacturing cost turned out to be higher than expected and prohibitive. Then came the realization that the metal powders currently used for conventional metal 3D printing happened to be too time consuming to produce as well as too expensive. The Vaders then decided to abandon their efforts in developing the turbine generator and decided to focus on developing this unique technology that would potentially change how metal rapid prototyping is done around the world.
Vader Systems has basically developed an inkjet printer system that prints using their liquid metal material. For developing this revolutionary technology, Zack Vader made a combination of Liquid Metal Jet Printing and Magneto Hydro Dynamics. Together, these two technologies make the Mk1 3D printer which utilizes a spool of metal based material which is raw. This material is first inserted into a heated up chamber, whose temperature rises to about 800 degree Celsius- this is insulated within a ceramic chamber. Next, electromagnetic pulses are employed so that molten aluminum gets dispersed into innumerable small individual droplets. Cleanly ejected, these liquid metal droplets then work together to form accurate and pinpoint precise objects.
The Mk1 has already proven itself to be a useful system for heavy duty industries that work with precise and accurate metal parts. Even though a lot of trial and error was involved in order to properly develop the Vader Systems MagnetoJet 3D printer, the system does have a lot of potential for those interested to use it industrially. New York based Aurora Machine, a machine shop, has signed a deal with Vader Systems. Aurora has actually bought the Vader developed liquid metal 3D printer, which they are going to use for printing aluminum based small parts.
Scott Vader in fact left his steady, long time career as an engineer in order to help pursue this new technological dream along with his son Zack. Currently the CEO of Vader Systems, Scott’s efforts have left Zack with the chance to contribute the necessary resources and time required to focus on actual product development. Since their inception, this family enterprise has indeed come a long way. Their first prototype in fact, failed miserably. However, now that their metal rapid prototyping device is successful, they have garnered major interest from companies such as Lockheed Martin, among others. Aurora Machines is set to employ their new MagnetoJet technology that they purchased officially from Vader early next year. As first official purchasers, Aurora is set to receive their first liquid metal 3D printing system in 2017. With this new device, the company is soon going to radicalize the current methods of metal 3D printing and usher a new era.
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