3D printing services are awesome because they liberate creators from having to own and know how to operate a 3D printer. Metal is awesome because it’s hard and shiny, which are desirable attributes in a world as bland and tough as ours. i.materialise is awesome because it combines those two things, metal and 3D printing services. With over 20 materials to choose from you can have your objects shipped to you as ABS, clear resin, sterling silver, 14 carat gold, and even titanium. But i.materialise has a new trick up its sleeve: high detail stainless steel (HS).
Stainless steel was already an offered material, but mostly for large and simple parts that need to be very rigid. Now though, this experimental high grade steel can be used to create rather small objects with lots of detail. Figurines only a couple centimeters high can have clear expressions on their tiny faces. Stamp molds could be printed with a font that requires a magnifying glass to read. This level of strength and definition is achieved by running a stainless steel (316L) powder through a precision inkjet printer; the object is then baked in an oven at 1,300 degrees before being mechanically polished. The people at i.materialise have tried to cause the material to rust in a salt bath, but it just won’t have it.
Relative to other metals, stainless steel (HS) is almost as strong as titanium and about as shiny as silver. Quite the combination. Since the material is brand new, i.materialise is asking customers to try it and leave feedback as to what it’s good for. There are a few obvious applications though, like board game pieces, jewelry, keychains, and anything that needs to survive the weather. Raw hardness and accuracy are somewhat traded off for the high level of detail, so this material probably isn’t ideal for mechanical parts, though surely some will put it through such trials.
In addition to their printing services, i.materialise also highlights several free and intuitive 3D fabrication utilities on their site so you can forego relying on costly designers if you so choose. I anticipate more coming from i.materialise, especially on the materials front; a durable and soft rubber would be useful. If you’d like to try the new steel though, it’s ranked number 16.