3D-Printing Liquid Metal Could Make The T-1000 Terminator A Reality

If 3D printing is truly going to revolutionise how we produce everything from cars, to computers, to weapons, it's going to have to move past the current limitations of plastic as a printing material. And what better place to start than a next-generation 3D printer that extrudes liquid metal?

That's exactly what researchers at North Carolina State University have developed, and it could be the next big leap in 3D-printing technology.

Turning strands of plastic into a malleable goo that can be squeezed through a tiny print head doesn't require a heck of a lot of heat. Metal, on the other hand, requires giant foundries and furnaces to reshape and mould. So the researchers at NCSU, led by Michael Dickey, developed a special metal alloy that's already in a liquid state at room temperature. Made from a mixture of 75 per cent eutectic gallium alloy and 25 per cent indium, when the material is exposed to air something neat happens: a thin outer layer of gallium oxide is formed, allowing the extrusion to hold its structure and shape.

In a way, you can think of the small beads and long cylinders this 3D printer creates as tiny water balloons, but filled with liquid metal instead of H20. And the thin gallium oxide outer layer is not only flexible — allowing the extrusions to be further moulded and shaped — it also conducts electricity so it can be used as wires or other components of electronics.

Maintaining a specific shape while printing with the unique metal is a tricky process that requires the exact amount of pressure so that the thin wires and shapes don't collapse, or explode. So using the new technology to print something like a T-1000, or even a simple paper clip, is still impractical. But it does have the potential to revolutionise how electronics are manufactured, and at the least, simplify the creation of prototypes. And it's another important step towards advancing 3D printers to the point where creating anything you want is a button press away.

[The Dickey Group via Advanced Materials via New Scientist]


Comments

    9/10 people will use this to spell out rude words or make a phone holder :-) can't wait to be one of them

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Whilst I applaud the idea here, wouldn't it have been a bit smarter to use a metal with a low melting point that's easily and readily available in a wire type form already?

    Maybe, and I'm just tossing this out there, but maybe Solder would be a better medium to work with?

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Beats Audio

    I hope they can perfect this soon so I can torrent my new car

    I hope they can perfect this soon so I can torrent my new car

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Maybe we could torrent the HTC ONE hehe

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    This would be awesome for one day printing whole electronic components

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Wow! We can already buy decent 3D printers in Australia for less than a Grand, so probably be able to buy one next year I hope.

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Beats Audio

    manufacturing costs would be super expensive. Why buy a machine when you can pay a 3rd world country peanuts to do it by manual labour? =\

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Design

    Impossible, the T-1000 this soon? I've yet to see a bog standard T-800 Arnie model walking around

    I want the #HTCOne for its: Screen

      You're not supposed to see them - they are there though!

    I don't get it. The object you print is liquid metal at room temperature held in place by a thin skin. Sounds extremely fragile. It can't make a solid object. It could print flexible wire, just as long as you don't touch the wire.

    Why doesn't Andrew research his topics???

    Then he would know that there have been 3d printers making metal objects for years.

    (Google Metal Selective Laser Sintering, or Direct Metal Laser Sintering)

    This is interesting, but probably seriously expensive and limited in applications as observed.... (however there are lots of metals with a low (ish) melting point which could apply a similar technology to conventional hot-glue-gun type printing , just remember to do it in an oxygen free environment. remembering that it is very easy to melt metals, not always as easy to fuse them well...)

    (Many things are possible, it is just that everyone with know-how and inclination is already busy doing other things)

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