Technology and design continue to stretch the bounds of artistic expression with sometimes surprising results and consequences. The extension of industrial Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies to include a variety of 3D printed metal processes is now being increasingly employed by designers to create complex objects as one-off or in series. This work is now making its way into public and private collections around the world.
There are two major technologies. In both a CAD programmed head rasters across a building platform of powdered alloy material to form the object. In one method, called Sand Printing the nozzle exudes a resin that adheres fine particles of metal, silica sand, ceramic or glass together in a solid mixture from the bottom up. Subsequent steps of curing, sintering and at times infusion ready the form for final surface finishing. In a second method called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) a laser passes over the powder in a pattern defined by the CAD program to sinter the alloy beads together in one step.
Conservators are being asked to understand and assess objects created by these technologies for issues of durability, corrosion resistance and treatment. This paper will review the major industrial techniques of printing metal, explain how they differ from each other and compare them to traditional techniques of casting and forging. It will detail the impact of fabrication inherent to each major technology on physical characteristics such as fatigue, corrosion resistance, strength, porosity and surface finish on the final product. Interviews with designers using 3D metal printing methods will shed light on how their expectations, cost considerations, scale and working methods informed their choice of technology.