The value of 3D printing is greatest when used to produce the coveted “impossible objects.” Direct precious metal 3D printing has best demonstrated this in the jew'elry sector, where the process has opened up unique design and weight-loss capabilities. So what happens when you introduce this level of innovation to a completely different traditional industry like coin making?
Cooksongold, part of the Hei merle + Meule Group, has a long history of producing precious metal products for the jewelry and watchmaking industries. In 2014, in collaboration with EOS, the company introduced the Precious M 080, an advanced manufacturing technology that allows the user to create complex jewelry and watch components in the Advanced Precious Metal Powder range: 18k gold, 950 Platinum, and 925 Silver.
In its most recent project, technology has been used to tackle another type of industrial production—the mint. Cooksongold already supplies blank coins to a number of mints around the world, which then hit the coins with their own images. With that, the supplier of precious metals decided to set itself the challenge of printing the world’s first truly 3D image directly onto the face of an existing blank coin using a different alloy.
To accomplish this, the building foundation was first milled to house the current 18k yellow gold coin blank. Using a CAD image of the “crown” design, the image was 3D printed in 20-micron layers using 500 g of 18k white powder directly on the coin. The 3D-printing process of precious metal melted the powder directly to the surface of the coin, ensuring a strong bond between the metals. Using a special manufacturing method, it was possible for the coin to have undercuts and display a true 3D image that is simply not possible using conventional stamping techniques (Figure 7.13).
FIGURE 7.13 3D-printed coin.
As 3D-printing technology continues to improve, consumers suddenly find the ability to manufacture their own products. While 3D desktop printing has its limitations, there are a lot of useful objects that can be created right at home.
There have been 3D ceramic printers in the past, but most of them have been printed in very poor materials, with information that leaves a lot to be desired. Such printers have never been able to print useful, reliable tableware, such as teacups, bowls, etc.
The world’s first 3D ceramic tableware printer was created by Bristol University students. The printer from the University of West England currently prints a porcelain content much superior to what has been seen with previous printers. The machine will be very attractive to artists, designers, and manufacturers of tableware and other ceramic products. The entire process of printing, glazing, and firing each piece may still take a few days, but those in the ceramics industry are used to such waiting times (Figure 7.14).