Process Controlled Dissolvable Supports in 3D Metals Printing


Support structures are commonly used in metal 3D printing as a way to brace and fortify parts during the 3D printing process. In the traditional, monolithic supports strategies, the supports are made from the same material as the part, and subsequent machining operations are needed to remove the supports from the part. These supports inherently limit the size and complexity of the parts that can be fabricated using “monolithic” or single material printing. Additionally, the requirement that the supports must be machine-accessible limits the types of shapes that can be fabricated and may require additional features on the part/support so that the part can be held while supports are being machined off. These machining operations significantly increase the cost and impose significant design restrictions on the part. Overall, the current process is costly and adds unwanted complexity to the design, fabrication, and post‐processing steps for metal 3D printing.

Researchers at Arizona State University have developed a process for 3D metal printing that uses selective structural patterning to create dissolvable supports. Processing conditions experienced by materials during 3D printing impact the resulting microstructure. All of these microstructural features impact the mechanical properties and the chemical stability of a printed material. These differences in properties can be exploited to create localized areas of structural and chemical weaknesses so that support structures can be easily removed without requiring machining operations. These regions can be created by controlling temperature, time, power density, thermal cycling, deposition material, chemical environment, and elemental composition. Additionally, local control of microstructure at the support/component interface creates regions of increased etch rate so that the support is rapidly removed from the component without machining operations.

Potential Applications

  • Metal 3D printing
  • Additive and subtractive manufacturing
  • Rapid prototyping

Benefits and Advantages

  • Versatile – These methods offer a variety of processes to alter the microstructure for support removal.
  • Increased Design Freedom – Fluid support removal allows for more efficient support removal and increases design freedom.
  • Lower Costs – This is a simple technique that does not require elaborate machinery to remove support structures.
  • Wide Range of Application –This technique covers a broad range of metals as both the “part” material and the “sacrificial” support material.

For more information about the inventor(s) and their research, please see

Dr. Owen Hildreth's directory webpage

Dr. Keng Hsu's directory webpage

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