3D printing powdered gold? [Photo by NaMaKuKi from Pexels]
I had a chat with a vendor at TCT Show about the possibility of 3D printing precious metals, and received a very interesting answer.
This unnamed vendor produces a powder-based metal 3D printing system, as do many other manufacturers. Typically, such machines are used to 3D print titanium, different grades of steel, aluminum, nickel and other commonly used engineering metals.
But in theory a powder system could be used to 3D print many different metal powders, so long as they do not mess with the laser. Copper, for example, is extremely difficult to 3D print with a selective laser approach simply due to its incredible heat transfer property. The selected area would quickly bleed heat to surrounding areas, messing up the print.
There should be an ability to 3D print precious metals, such as gold or platinum. But very few metal 3D printers vendors seem to do this, aside from OR Laser and a handful of 3D print services.
Would A 3D Print Service Print Gold?
Back to the discussion.
The vendor in question suggested they would “never” consider precious metal printing.
I wondered whether this was a technical thing, but apparently not.
It has to do with security.
The value of precious metals is huge, hence the term itself. Even very small amounts of precious metals are quite valuable.
Now, in an additive manufacturing setting where there might be, for example, drums full of powdered gold, sometimes spilled, there could be some security issues.
Security Challenges With Precious Metals
Long ago I knew people who worked in a coin mint. This operation had significant security measures, as employees could otherwise make off with, literally, money. It wouldn’t take much — only enough coins to NOT set off the detector at the end of each day. I recall this being an ongoing issue, where inventive thieves would continually test the system, and managers would periodically implement new security regimes.
But that’s with coins and metal coin blanks. What would happen with precious metal powders?
There would be countless new opportunities for people to make off with valuable powder. My metal 3D printer vendor friend suggested they may even have to “burn the work clothes” to recover stray gold powder.
Not 3D Printing Gold Anytime Soon
As a result, this vendor is not going to provide a precious metal 3D printing service, as the cost of setting up such security programs would be significant.
That said, it would seem the ideal candidates for actually 3D printing precious metals might be existing facilities that have already set up the required security regimes for other reasons. The coin mint mentioned above would be one such candidate.
This is one reason why so many metal 3D printer manufacturers and operators never seem to mention the idea of 3D printing precious metals.