Dissolvable supports are common in plastic 3D printing and dramatically simplify the cleanup process for plastic parts. However, this capability has not been extended to metal 3D printing, and metal 3D printed supports must be machined off. The increased costs of the process are sometimes more expensive than subtractive manufacturing and can exceed the cost of the original part. Additionally, designs are severely limited, as any supports must be accessible by a machine for removal. This limits the use of supports for complex 3D printing jobs where they are needed the most. Therefore, there is a need for a simple, inexpensive way to remove supports in 3D metal printed parts.
Researchers at Arizona State University have developed a set of methods and chemistries for easy removal of supports or sections of a 3D printed metal structure by using post-print surface treatments. Once the 3D metal part and supports are printed, a sensitization layer is applied to all or part of the 3D printed piece to chemically alter portions of the first metal material near the surface. This treatment makes those portions of the material more sensitive to the etching process. The etching process then causes the affected material to deplete and separates the part from the support structures without needing mechanical machinery to separate the component from the support structures. This new process dramatically simplifies the support removal process for metals while also opening up new design freedoms, and is expected to become an Industry Standard Practice within the Additive Manufacturing industries.
- Metal 3D printing
- Additive and subtractive manufacturing
- Rapid prototyping
Benefits and Advantages
- Control of Process – The etching process has a natural “etch stop” that stops etching process at a specific, controllable depth.
- Improved Finish - This process can also be used to improve the surface finish of 3D printed parts.
- Increased Design Freedom – Fluid support removal allows for more efficient support removal, which 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