Sheffield boost to 3D printing industry

Sheffield University researchers are helping engineers improve 3D printing techniques by making parts that are lighter and stronger.

New methods will also make the process faster and more economical using a cutting edge process known as high speed sintering - HSS.

Unlike commercial 3D printers that use lasers, HSS marks the shape of the part onto powdered plastic using heat-sensitive ink, which is then activated by an infra-red lamp to melt the powder layer by layer and so build up the 3D part.

The Sheffield team has discovered they can control the density and strength of the final product by printing the ink at different shades of grey and that the best results are achieved by using less ink than is standard.

“All HSS work to date has involved printing 100 per cent black, but this doesn’t get the best results,” said Professor Neil Hopkinson.

“We found that there is a point at which, as the ink levels increase, the mechanical properties start to reduce. This enabled us to identify the ‘sweet spot’ at which you can gain maximum strength with the minimum amount of ink.”

The researchers are able to manipulate the density of the material by 40 per cent, so it is lighter but just as strong.