"Clank" is a sound you'll be hearing more often at i.Materialise in the future after this week's announcement of their new Titanium 3D printing process. No kidding - you can now order a Titanium Whistle!
This very advanced process seems unique to i.Materialise, and involves a powder based process. Powedered titanium metal is laid in a very thin layer. An extremely powerful laser then traces the solid portions by melting the powder. A second layer of titanium powder is deployed and the process repeats, gradually building up a whole object.
The strength of titanium is legendary, of course - but this means that the minimum wall thickness can be quite small. In this case, i.Materialise is able to print with a minimum wall thickness of 0.2mm, enabling very fine structures to be printed.
What's not small is the build envelope: 27 x 25 x 43cm (10.6 x 10 x 17 inches). This means some pretty impressive objects can be printed, and we're expecting interesting reports in the next few months. However, you'll have to contrast that against the price, which is somewhat more than printing common plastic. In fact, they say an object within a 2 x 2 x 4 cm box comprised of 4cc's of titanium would cost 235 Euro (USD$313). Pricey - but it IS titanium, after all. A 40cm tall Steve Jobs figurine would probably cost billions.
The price is high not only because of the material. There's the matter of removing support material created when the object is built. Normally, this is a simple matter of dissolving them in a solution or peeling them off if printing in plastic. However, titanium requires somewhat more powerful methods, including "very powerful circular saws and other tools". We're used to removing material with a mere razor blade, not a plasma cutter.
If the introduction of titanium wasn't enough, i.Materialise followed up with a post on a new 3D printer capable of printing solid gold. Not satisfied with simply plating objects with gold, the Concept Laser Mlab actually prints gold metal, bit by bit. We suspect the jewellers will eat this one up. If i.Materialise adds this device to their fleet, we suspect they'll attract many amateur and professional jewellers, too.