3D Printing With Lasers
NASA has developed a process they call selective laser melting. That’s more accurate, albit less catchy, than 3D laser printing.
Selective laser melting involves firing a laser beam into a pile of metal powder and where the laser hits, the powder fuses together in a precise way so that you slowly build up the finished, solid metal part. Compared to traditional manufacturing and 3D printing, this is more efficient in that it’s basically a one step process that creates a functional part & the process allows more flexibility in the design of the parts you can produce.
Of course this isn’t really printing, per se, since you’re not extruding anything. (Although it’s sort of like printing in the old school carbon copy way.) 3D printing is a catch-all buzzword for any kind of additive manufacturing. In the modern, widely used method of computer numeric controlled manufacturing you take a big hunk of something and use a computer program to cut away the bits you don’t want. In additive manufacturing, you build up the part you want with metal powder, plastic goop, or some other substrate.
If you want to get your own design made into metal, NASA’s method is still in development, but Shapeways has a consumer-ready metal prototyping process (spoiler alert: no lasers).
The process lays down a thin layer of stainless steel powder, this is bound by a binding material. Layer after layer is applied and the resulting model is then lifted out of the powder. The model is then heated, cured and infused with bronze.
Shapeways’ process is similar to the old, reliable method of sand casting.
It’s interesting to see how manufacturing technology has evolved. 3D printing is a big step forward from CNC manufacturing which itself was a big step forward from traditional manufacturing methods like sand casting. What’s old is new again.