Diamond: the world’s hardest material now can be 3D printed
Diamonds are not only shiny, but their amazing quality is also a strength. They are harder than anything else but so far we’ve been unable to discover their full capabilities. This might soon change thanks to a revolutionary development from a Swedish company. What challenges did they have to face? How did they find a solution? Let’s find out!
What was the biggest challenge of 3D printing with diamonds?
Despite the famous durability of diamonds, their use is limited as they are so hard that we’re unable to shape them in complex geometries. Of course, they are widely used in fine jewelry applications, but did you know that industries such as automotive, mining and even military benefit from this precious material too?
This super strong material is highly valuable for production, from drill bits to cutting tools, but we can’t fully use their potential. Yet. At the latest Rapid + TCT event, Sandvik Additive Manufacturing, a Swedish engineering company with a history going back to 1862, developed a revolutionary technique that allows producing parts with a diamond composite that don’t need any additional machining, they come out of the 3D printer in exactly the shape needed.
Anders Ohlsson, Sandvik’s Delivery Manager explains: ‘’Historically, 3D printing in diamond was something that none of us imagined was achievable, Even now we are just starting to grasp the possibilities and applications that this breakthrough could have’’. The latest development from Sandvic can change manufacturing as we know it.
Why is a 3D printed diamond so important?
As mentioned above the most important characteristic of diamonds is not their shine, but the strength and resistance. They are considered to be the most robust material in the world, 3 times stiffer than steel, it’s the hardest natural material. 3D printed diamond can absolutely revolutionize many industries.
Ohlsson highlights the importance of this material: ‘’On seeing its potential, we began to wonder what else would be possible from 3D-printing complex shapes in a material that is three times stiffer than steel, with heat conductivity higher than copper, thermal expansion close to Invar – and with a density close to aluminum. These benefits make us believe that you will see this diamond composite in new advanced industrial applications ranging from wear parts to space programs, in just a few years from now.’’
Thanks to Additive Manufacturing, 3D printed diamond can be produced in any, even super complex, shapes. There would be no need to produce gears and complicated industrial tools, they could just come straight out of the 3D printer- ready to use and strong like never before!
It’s important to notice that the diamond is not a new material. Sometimes there is no need to develop new materials, but to learn how to process existing ones using their full potential. Professor at the Department of Material Science and Engineering a Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Annika Borgenstam, comments on this development:
‘’Rather than looking to actually develop completely new materials, today the big push within the industry involves the often-radical restructuring of existing materials. Using revolutionary new processes such as additive manufacturing will open up new ways of using the same types of materials that we have today, by building in the properties that we need.’’
How does it work?
3D printed diamond requires absolutely new and most innovative technologies. That’s why Additive Manufacturing was the perfect solution to producing fully functional and super strong tools. 3D printing brings the new industrial revolution. How exactly does this technique of manufacturing 3D printed diamond work?
Head of R&D and Operations, Mikael Schuisky, noticed that ‘’the additive manufacturing process used is highly advanced. We are printing in a slurry consisting of diamond powder and polymer using stereolithography.’’
An absolutely crucial step in this revolutionary development is post-processing. Thanks to long research, Sandvik achieved a new technology that allows controlling the properties of 3D printed diamond keeping it harder than steel, with extremely good heat conductivity, corrosion resistance, and great thermal expansion.
Another important aspect of Sandvik’s innovative technology is sustainability. After the 3D printing job is done, their 3D printed diamond composite can be recycled and reused in the next AM process.
What are other strong 3D printing materials?
3D printed diamond might seem unavailable for you, but strong and resistant 3D printing materials are within your reach. When it comes to plastics, Nylon PA12 performs with great strength and is available in 17 colors. On the other hand, HP produces Jet Fusion material which is also robust but at the same time flexible and heat resistant.
Another group of material worth mentioning is resins. RPU by Carbon will produce fully functional parts at amazing quality. They are also characterized by high elasticity, impact and tear resistance.
Last but not least: metal 3D printing! This technology is getting more and more attention in the aerospace and automotive industries. For instance, Aluminium AlSi7Mg0.6 stands out for its lightweight, durability and high voltage resistance.
There is even an option if you’re looking for medical grade material which is Titanium 6Al-4V. This high-performance 3D printing metal can be exposed to extreme temperature (1660° C), has low toxicity and is lightweight.
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