Scientists develop the first ever low-cost 3D metal printer

A new open-source 3D metal printer has been built by scientists at Michigan Technological University using less than $1,500 (£913) worth of materials.

The team led by Associate Professor Joshua Pearce has made the software and firmware, as well as the plans for the printer, freely available to anyone interested in making their own 3D metal printer.

"Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many," Pearce said.

Although the printer is still a work in progress - so far nothing more intricate than a sprocket has been printed using the technology - Pearce predicts that by making it open-source, rapid progress can be made in developing and fine-tuning it.

"Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it," Pearce said. "Within a month, somebody will make one that's better than ours, I guarantee it."

3D metal printers have been developed commercially, but they currently cost around half a million dollars (£300,000). At less than £1,000, Pearce's printer costs less than the cheapest off-the-shelf 3D plastic printers.

"I really don't know if we are mature enough to handle it," Pearce added. "But I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which 'replicators' can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost. Pretty soon, we'll be able to make almost anything."