Just like this past Thanksgiving, it seems 3D printing enthusiasts can’t shake the holiday spirit. For Christmas, Olaf Rehme, a material researcher at Siemens Corporate Technology, is getting ready for the holiday by printing Christmas trees using a nickel alloy metal.
He printed the small trees using a process known as direct metal laser sintering, which uses a laser beam to track across a metal powder. The energy released from the laser melts the powdered metal back into a solid in thin layers, thereby creating a 3D printed object. As you can imagine, this method of printing leaves a large amount of unfused metal powder, which is usually reclaimed and used in later print jobs.
Because the printing is done by a laser and not an extruded plastic, this process allows for highly complicated and complex designs built in 3D CAD programs. Although the size is limited and the cost of the metal powder prevents this from being used on a mass scale, it does allow for complicated pieces to be printed in a matter of hours with no tooling.
Using the same process they use to create gas turbine parts, parts that are usually designed in a fan shape to help generate the centrifugal forces needed, these trees have an interesting flare and tapered design that makes them look very realistic. Although not something ever intended for production or consumers, these steel trees will make nice ornaments for a Christmas tree, as well as provide a good example of some of the things that 3D printing is capable of.