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SCC successfully prints stainless steel parts using $600 desktop 3D printers

SCC Professor Karl Watson TIG welding the 3D printed parts together

SOMERSET, Ky. – Somerset Community College’s (SCC) Additive Manufacturing (AM) program has successfully produced stainless steel parts using a $600 desktop 3D printer. SCC has also Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welded several of these parts together.

This project is one of the first times that fully metal parts were 3D printed on an inexpensive desktop printer and then successfully welded together using ordinary welding methods.

Over the past several years, SCC has been at the forefront of workforce technician training in AM technology, commonly referred to as 3D printing.  SCC created Kentucky’s first state-wide certificate program in 3D printing. SCC has also helped many businesses integrate the technology into their operations with the support of USDA Rural Business Development.

Additive Manufacturing Professor Eric Wooldridge says he has been “helping these groups to understand that the power of additive manufacturing is not so much about the 3D printer itself. It is about the complex Next-Generation products that the 3D printers can create as well as the cutting edge materials that the printers can utilize.”

The SCC Additive Manufacturing faculty and staff started with several low cost 3D printers, typically less than $450 each. These types of 3D printers are normally only able to 3D print with plastics. Industrial metal 3D printers, however, can easily reach half a million dollars or more.

Industrial metal 3D printing also usually involves a significant amount of safety hazards. For these reasons, most students in high schools, community colleges, and even universities, have never fabricated or even held a metal 3D printed part. Being able to use a desktop 3D printer that costs less than $450 to print out a metal part is a huge leap forward in access to the technology.

SCC was able to customize low cost desktop 3D printers for metal filament extrusion for less than $600 per printer. The parts were 3D printed and then heated to remove the plastic and fuse the remaining metal together.

This results in parts made entirely of metal, in this case stainless steel. The final step was to hand the parts over to SCC’s Welding department and let them work their magic.

SCC’s Welding Professor, Karl Watson, successfully used TIG welding on the parts. “The welds flowed very smoothly, and we had very good penetration control,” says Watson. “Because of the nature of 3D printing, I expected to see more porosity in the weld, but that wasn’t the case at all. I am looking forward to doing some bend tests to determine the potential malleability.”

SCC’s goal now is to bring this low cost metal 3D printing technology to students, teachers, and businesses throughout Kentucky. SCC will begin to provide training workshops for select educators in Kentucky high schools and community colleges.

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation.