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SINTERHARD FILLED 3D Printer Filaments for printing Small Quantities of Industrial Metal or Ceramic Parts that can be sintered hard
84 backers pledged $16,383 to help bring this project to life.

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Some of the Logos of News Sources with Articles on Sinterhard Filaments
Some of the Logos of News Sources with Articles on Sinterhard Filaments

Join us in Printing Small, Complex, Net Shape Industrial Metal and Ceramic parts with a filament 3D printer using Sinterhard's Proposed lines of Metal and Ceramic Filled filaments in ABS or PLA and help carry 3D printing to a new level of applications in Additive Manufacturing.

Currently, Metal Injection Molding and Ceramic Injection Molding [ MIM and CIM] processes are reported to produce over $1.5 Billion in industrial parts annually, and the Press and Sinter Powdered Parts Process over $6 Billion annually.  Commercial markets of this size offer opportunities for manufacturing the parts following the same process steps, but with the 3D Printer [using Sinterhard Printer Filaments ] to make the "green part".

Sinterhard originally planned  to  only  produce ABS and PLA thermoplastic 3D printer  filaments, filled with either 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum metal powder, for use in your existing 3D filament printer.for this project.  Since its launch, however, we have been bombarded to make filaments with other powders [both metal and  ceramic], and added that option as a reward [Reflecting that we need additional time and funds to clean the equipment between different filament fillers 

The MIM Process schematic is:

Metal Injection Molding with Vacuum Debinding and Sintering
Metal Injection Molding with Vacuum Debinding and Sintering
the Current MIM and CIM Process and Proposed Similar MPF and CPF Processes
the Current MIM and CIM Process and Proposed Similar MPF and CPF Processes

Making metal parts that look like these

Typical Metal Parts produced Commercially Via MIM [Metal Injection Molding
Typical Metal Parts produced Commercially Via MIM [Metal Injection Molding

Or Ceramic Injection Molded parts that look like this:

Ceramic Injection Molded Parts [including threads on nuts and bolts]
Ceramic Injection Molded Parts [including threads on nuts and bolts]

In comparing the existing MIM and CIM processes, with the proposed new MPF Process [Metal Printed Filament Process],  the  3D Printer will replace the Plastic Injection Molding Machine in the Metal Injection Molding [MIM] process, and later using Oxide and non-Oxide ceramic filled filaments  in  the Ceramic Injection Molding Process [CIM].

Process Steps Replacing the Molding Machine with a 3D Printer
Process Steps Replacing the Molding Machine with a 3D Printer

We expect, initially, the Sinterhard Metal filled Filaments and 3D printed parts  made with these filaments will be for small production runs which can not justify the cost of developing  the metal injection mold to account for shrinkage of the part during sintering. Developing the metal injection mold that will makes a net shape part after the shrinkage that occurs during sintering can be expensive and time consuming, however, over the past 45 years, Industry has become quite comfortable doing this.  Currently, the MIM and CIM processes produce  $1.6 Billion Dollars of intricate small, industrial metal and ceramic parts annually [A market size that ought to catch the attention of 3D Printing enthusiasts looking for 3D printing to grow and penetrate the industrial marketplace] 

Looking at another market for candidate parts, the commercial market for industrial pressed and sintered powder metal parts is estimated to be $6 billion annually.  In this process, a compacting press  makes a "Brown" compacted metal part that is then sintered [during which the compacted metal part is brought to near full density and hardness].  A Schematic of this process is attached.

Pressing a Powder Metal Part to make a Brown Part to be Sintered
Pressing a Powder Metal Part to make a Brown Part to be Sintered

The role of the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments, 3D printers  and Debinding Oven would be to print small quantities of more complex parts, replacing the hydraulic press.

The Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments will enable people to print small quantities of complex net shape production metal parts that then can be debound  and sintered into hard, dense  sintered metal parts., allowing 3D Printing to begin to achieve the role predicted for in in Additive Manufacturing of commercial parts.  The debinding and sintering equipment can be "home made" by Makers, bought off the shelf commercial equipment, or custom fabricated for specific part and manufacturers needs.

In selecting  316 Stainless Steel and Aluminum powders, we are starting with two of the most common metals that are in use making  parts with the current industrial MIM process.  They have a moderate sinter temperature [the 316 Stainless Steel filled filaments ]  and a low sinter temperature  [Aluminum filled filaments ] as a starting point. These metals cover a large range in commercial applications and the powders are  available in the fine mesh size we need to insure a high quality 3 D Printed  part.

Fine Mesh 316 SS and Aluminum Powders
Fine Mesh 316 SS and Aluminum Powders

For the Thermoplastic Resins we have selected PLA [Polylactic Acid] and ABS [Acrylonitrile, Butadiene Styrene] in diameters of 1.75 mm and 3.0 mm. Both are thermoplastic materials and will encase the metal powders and closely replicate the the thermoplastic carriers used in the  MIM feed stocks being used commercially.

ABS and PLA  are the two most commonly used 3D Printer Filament thermoplastic materials and 1.75 and 3.0 are the most common diameters of filaments  being used in filament 3D printers today.[Today, we are making the Sinterhard filaments for the existing printers, but in the future, we expect custom 3D printers will be designed and made for the part being produced, with the filament diameter a variable that the designer can alter , along with a support nozzle, accurately controlled temperature in the print area, print beds adjusted for part removal, and entire machines with all the process steps included in one enclosure [which will have a controlled oxygen atmosphere [or vacuum], potentially a reducing atmosphere, binder removal [burn-off or trapped], sintering, sinterhipping and secondary operations lie plasma processing.

Plasma Ion Nitriding-a secondary Operation for Adding Enhanced Material Properties [and is not a coating, but atrue metallurgical bond]
Plasma Ion Nitriding-a secondary Operation for Adding Enhanced Material Properties [and is not a coating, but atrue metallurgical bond]

We have sourced and plan to initially buy both the PLA and ABS   in powder form. This will allow us to eliminate the grinding of  pellets of ABS or PLA and allow rapid, uniform  mixing of the fine metal powders.. We have found suppliers who manufactures PLA and ABS powders for another purpose, but is ideal for mixing metal into our Sinterhard PLA and ABS Filled Filaments.

Mixing Powders with Thermoplastic
Mixing Powders with Thermoplastic

For starting the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filament Project and our Prototype work, we  used our Modified Lyman Filament Extruder [see project photo].  We also own two larger commercial filament extruders, which we plan to use if we have more demand initially, or as we gear up into making commercial Metal and Ceramic powder filled Sinterhard 3D Printer Filaments. 

Schematic for Making Printer Filament
Schematic for Making Printer Filament
Larry Coster , EE, Working on the Filament Winder
Larry Coster , EE, Working on the Filament Winder

In the existing commercial MIM and CIM processes, a thermoplastic is mixed with a very fine metal or ceramic powder, which is melted and injected into a mold cavity in the injection molding machine.  The molten thermoplastic resin conveys the metal through the runners and then the  cooled and the frozen plastic part  can be removed from the mold.

By using the Sinterhard Metal Filled 3D Printer Filaments in  filament 3D Printer to make small quantities of production parts, we can replace the Injection Molding Machine and metal injection mold [which currently has the economic advantage of speed and lower costs for high production runs, but  there is a practical minimum production quantity  required, and 3D Printing the part does not have a minimum quantity].

We believe the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments will replace the MIM feed stocks [for small production runs] as the 3D Printer replaces the IM machine [for small production quantities]. The molded green MIM part or the Printed green MPF part then can follow the path blazed by the 45 years of development work done on MIM and CIM.  From that point forward, the MIM and CIM processes are the same as those envisioned for the 3D MPF Process [Metal Printed Filament  Process.]

The thermoplastic is removed from the printed part via a process step called "Debinding", The soft printed part is called a "Green Part".  Depending upon the thermoplastic resin used, the plastic can be removed by solvent [alkaline water for PLA or an organic solvent like Acetone for ABS] or by thermal evaporation [in a vacuum oven with traps for the binder, or with a binder burn off accessory-see YouTube-Modules of a Debind and Sinter Vacuum Furnace.]

What remains is a soft, low density  metal part, called a "Brown Part".    The Brown Part will then be heated in  a furnace to the sintering temperature, which closes the metal pores to close and bring the part ,  to near full density and hardness.   Depending on the sensitivity of the metal to oxygen, the furnace will be a controlled atmosphere furnace or a vacuum furnace. Standard post finishing operations as used in Subtractive Manufacturing of Metal Parts can then be done.

Conventional Metal Injection Molding Process
Conventional Metal Injection Molding Process

The MPF Process [Metal Printed Filament Process] is essentially identical to the existing MIM Process, except that the 3D Filament Printer replaces the Plastic Injection Molding Machine, and the Mold. The Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments replaces the MIM Feed stocks. [but only  as an analogy, as the IM Machine speed and economics favor it over 3D printing in the manufacture of large quantities of commercial parts]

Bill Kovacs Using Sinterhard's Test MPF 3D Printers
Bill Kovacs Using Sinterhard's Test MPF 3D Printers

The Sinterhard Filament Team Members have been involved in the design, manufacture and installation of over 1000 furnaces worldwide over the past 30 years. We are planning a crowd funded, low cost,  table top debind and sinter furnace project as soon as the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filament Project is launched and product is delivered [as you need the filled filaments or pellets before needing a debind and sinter furnace].  

The steps in Debinding and Sintering
The steps in Debinding and Sintering

Sinterhard team members have worked in aspects of the MIM and CIM process since the 80's.  During that time, we learned the ideal particle size distributions for the 316 Stainless Steel and Aluminum Powders, as well as, the particle shape. [There are 4 basic methods of making metal powders, and each method has a signature powder shape and depending on the process conditions, particle size distribution]. Sinterhard team member know from their work on the MIM and CIM processes what makes good filled feedstock, and plan to bring this expertise to the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filament project.

Finished hard Metal Parts that Have Been Debound and Sintered
Finished hard Metal Parts that Have Been Debound and Sintered

To find published articles on Sinterhard Filaments simply google "Sinterhard"

As “Stretch Goals” and funds allow, we will buy additional metal powders with larger particle sizes, and powders made by the different processes, and different thermoplastic carrier materials.

We will also produce for  our investors  an Open Source Design Guide for producing metal parts via 3D Printing with Filament. It is our intention to open this exciting technology to the widest possible market, at the lowest possible cost in the fastest possible time.

MPF 3D Printer Design Guide as a Reward to Investors
MPF 3D Printer Design Guide as a Reward to Investors

Risks and challenges

In launching Sinterhard Metal Filled 3D Printer Filament, via Open Source, we are creating a direct path for 3D Printing to help grow the existing $1.6 Billion MIM and CIM market for complex, small industrial parts. MPF [Metal Printed Filaments] and later CPF process [Ceramic Printed Filament ] and will find a niche within this market, but not without anticipating and overcoming some challenges, as will the path to a niche in the $6 Billion Press Powder Metal Market.

For our part as suppliers of the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments, we must make a metal filled filament that will print to the accuracy of today's Filament 3D Printers, with a uniform "Green" density, while holding the desired metal printed form through debinding [going from a "green" thermoplastic encased part to making a "Brown Metal Part"], and then sintering it to a near full density,. The end product being a complex, hard metal part that will have shrunk while doing so up to 20% [and not necessarily isotropically. . That was the challenge for MIM in the 70's and ours today.

Not every complex, metal part that can be 3D printed from a CAD model with a thermoplastic filament plastic is a suitable candidate. Not all printed parts will make it through the steps to a finished, usable metal industrial part. Our challenge is to make metal filled filaments of sufficient quality and performance to make sure some metal parts get printed and go through the steps into production, showing the path for others to follow.

Our background and expertise has been in working with MIM and CiM processes and sintering pressed metal parts and the furnaces required to debind and sinter the molded parts dating back to the 80's.

In the early days of MIM and CIM, we could not routinely buy powders of the same material characteristics and the same particle size. Fine metal powders were a by product of powder metal production. Particle size distributions varied from one 5 gallon pail of powder to the next.

Additionally, we often could not find an adequate supply of fine powders, as the demand outstripped the supply. The MPF Process has the explosive growth potential to create those conditions again.

Some of the challenges we anticipate overcoming will be to offer an initial metal filled filament that will have enough plastic to allow print detail, but not so much as to leave voids in the parts that will not be able to be sintered closed [Some parts will have open porosity as a design feature, but that is less of a filament challenge and more of a part design and print challenge].

Creating an uniform density, metal filled filaments in ABS and PLA for consistent product print quality is our challenge. Having a balance in percentage thermoplastic to metal fill, particle size distribution, particle shape, that is uniformly mixed into ABS and PLA in two filament diameters [1.75 and 3.0 mm] with an unknown order quantity but delivery starting in mid summer 2015 is enough to keep us busy.

MIM and CIM have 45 years of development, hundreds of proprietary feed stocks, and $1.6 Billion annually in success stories. Pressed and sintered Powder Metal parts have $6 Billion annually in success stories.

The allegorical 4 minute mile barrier is broken. Those pathfinders have shown the way.

Will you be able to print every 316 Stainless or Aluminum part you can design?--No. Will you be part of releasing the full potential of Additive Manufacturing [and the emphasis is on manufacturing] -- Only if you invest, print, debind, sinter and overcome the challenges and then report back on your experience so others can benefit and carry the ball a bit further.

Our goal is that anyone in the world that can receive and ship via post or courier, can ultimately be a manufacturer and yes, that implies they have to also acquire or have access to electric power, a computer, the internet, a 3D printer and a furnace, but solar power, water power, electrification are feasible, and mankind has used furnaces to make swords and plowshares all over the planet. A few brave pathfinders will create the products and the worldwide additive manufacturing revolution will overcome those challenges.

Will the early parts that are printed be net shape finished quality? Probably not. Post print finishing is already a part of thermoplastic 3D Printing, MIM, CIM and Sintered Pressed Metal Parts.

Subtractive Manufacturing has a wide choice of secondary finishing processes now. Avoiding starting with a bar or ingot of material and cutting 80-90% away, by 3D Printing is an economic advantage,

Debinding and Sintering a metal part and then post sinter secondary finishing it into a finished product is a realistic goal to shoot for at this stage of the MPF Manufacturing Process Life cycle [and note: MPF is a process, and not a one size filament, one metal, one print, cure all.

We are planing to prepare and give as a Reward, a Design Guide comparing what we know now about the 3D Printing MPF process and the MIM Process, and the Pressed and Sintered Powder Metal Process approach to commercial parts. That Guide will be a "work in progress for a long time" with contributions coming from the Open Source Community and Forums adding and deleting sections [as a true "work in progress" should].

Are others more qualified to do this? Maybe, but e do have know how, and talent and a true belief that this is the next step for the growth of 3D Printing to its true potential
.
We have worked on how additives affect flow properties in thermoplastics during injection molding. Put in 30 years of debinding wax, and PEG binders in a single vacuum furnace for the Tungsten Carbide Industry [with sinterhipping [overpressure to 1500 psi with heat to remove porosity defects once you have sintered the pores closed. [We already know that adding pressure before pore closure would not move the materials in the bricks and mortar carbide structures with cobalt or nickel as the mortar].

We know how to overcome slumping and blistering in MIM and CIM parts in commercial thermal evaporative debinding. We have also worked on secondary post sinter reactive and surface modification treatments [ie CVD, PVD, PAPVD,PACVD and plasma ion nitriding are all technologies some of the Sinterhard Team members are familiar with].

We have an existing business with a 30,000 square feet building with 2000 amps of power [power needed for fialment production and debinding and sintering]. We also already have the equipment in house necessary to complete the project: filament extruders, pellet driers, winding equipment, chillers, test printers, material testing equipment, solvent debinding equipment, thermal debinding equipment, and sintering furnaces.

We also have infrastructure equipment: vehicles, fork lifts, furniture, phone system, computers, etc.

We do not need to raise money to buy the equipment to meet the project deliverables, and we are doing this Open Source, so those who want to join and help create the industrial additive manufacturing wave with metal printed parts can do so.

We are not excluding artists and non-manufacturing users, but we are after and promoting industrial users and applications.

Will the project be successful? We know we are going to be able to produce the Sinterhard Metal Filled Filaments and will give our early investors their money's worth. Will it prove to be a "Home Run"? Unknown. There are a lot of smart people out there doing a lot of innovative development.

Laser sintering of net shape metals is a pretty neat process, but the hardware [like laser metal sintering printers] is pretty expensive. Adding vacuum or controlled atmosphere to protect the material properties from oxygen degradation is an obvious step, but it does not come free. It does, however, have an advantage in that it does not require debinding and sintering equipment.

It is easier, however, to envision a Super "Big Bertha" 3D Filament Printer printing with a metal filled filament, and tougher to envision a football field size vacuum chamber containing a laser sintering system.

We see both approaches going forward in parallel. Each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Each finding a niche, and until a Filament printer can print faster than an injection molding machine can mold, , the MIM and CIMs market will also continue to grow [well beyond the $3 billion forecasts for 2025], and MPF will also begin to grow, slowly, but at some point there will be rapid growth.

It must be recognized, however, that our project goal of $15,000 is not even a decimal point or in the rounding point on the balance sheets of the giants of 3D Printing, MIM, CIM and Pressed and Sintered Powder Metal Processing.

The "Dream" and "vision" is large, but so is the task, while the budget is miniscule.

We think we have a better than average shot at hitting the ball for extra bases and hope you will join us in this journey.

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    Design Guide, via US Post.

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    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    You will receive One lbs. of 3.0 or 1.75 mm Sinterhard Metal Filled Thermoplastic Filament, in your choice of PLA or ABS, filled with 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum.

    Plus a Design Guide, via US Post.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    You will receive Two lbs. of 3.0 or 1.75 mm Sinterhard Metal Filled Thermoplastic Filament, in your choice of PLA or ABS, filled with 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum.

    Plus a Design Guide, via US Post.

    Plus two vouchers for 10% off of a one pound spool of Sinterhard Metal Filled filament.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    You will receive Two lbs. of 3.0 or 1.75 mm Sinterhard Metal Filled Thermoplastic Filament, in your choice of PLA or ABS, filled with 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum.

    Plus a Design Guide, via US Post.

    Plus two vouchers for 10% off of a one pound spool of Sinterhard Metal Filled filament.

    Plus your choice of a third one pound spool of filament, or having one part you have printed, debound and sintered in CLE's furnaces.

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    Pledge $200 or more About $200

    You will receive Three lbs. of 3.0 or 1.75 mm Sinterhard Metal Filled Thermoplastic Filament, in your choice of PLA or ABS, filled with 316 Stainless Steel or Aluminum.

    Plus a Design Guide, via US Post.

    Plus three vouchers for 10% off of a one pound spool of Sinterhard Metal Filled filament.

    Plus your choice of a Fourth one pound spool of filament, or having two parts you have printed, debound and sintered in CLE's furnaces.

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    You will receive 15 lbs of Sinterhard filled filament. and a Design Guide

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    Pledge $600 or more About $600

    15 lbs of a Metal or Ceramic filled filament of any powder you provide in the fine particle size we need to make the filled filaments plus a Design Guide

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    Pledge $4,000 or more About $4,000

    This is a special Reward for the Serious 3D Print Enthusiast. We will dedicate one filament extruder and one technician to make filament of the investors choosing, with $1000 of the pledge budgeted for raw and shipping costs of the investors choosing, $1000 allocated to overheads and miscellaneous project costs and 100 hours of a technician @$20/hour [and the right to continue on a similar basis]. In effect Sinterhard acting as a custom manufacturer of filled filaments for Use, R&D, and development of the early investor

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Funding period

- (30 days)