A Loughborough University professor in the UK has developed a 3D printer design for high-speed sintering (HSS) that is expected on the market as early as 2017. The design is being licensed to industrial machine manufacturers on a non-exclusive basis.

Professor Neil Hopkinson, lead inventor, says the process selectively fuses polymer powder layer by layer. Instead of using lasers, however, the process uses HSS to print infrared-absorbing ink onto a powder bed that is then exposed to infrared light that heats the powder covered by the ink. This causes the powder to fuse, while the rest of the powder remains cool.

The new machines were initially built in the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre before installation in the University’s Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing.

The new HSS machine will be able to make parts up to 1m³—a much greater size than existing selective laser sintering machines. It also is expected to work much quicker—the team estimates that small components will be built at a rate of less than one second per part, allowing the process to compete with injection molding for high-volume manufacturing.

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