image © Wired
Wired magazine currently has a story about some of the ways in which industrial designers are using 3D printers. Unfortunately it’s a pretty lightweight article, and glosses over some of the realities of the technology. For example Wired talks to Joe Hebenstreit, principal engineer at Frog Design, who designed and modelled his wife’s wedding ring:
“I designed it in 3-D, printed it out in wax, and then cast it in platinum at a high temperature casting place,”
There’s a lot missing from the attractive simplicity of this statement though. I don’t know if an investment mould can be made directly from the wax from a 3D printer (which would mean the 3D printer wax burns out as the platinum is poured) or if a specialty wax is needed. But even if it’s the former, the part needs spruing, and the high melt temperature, combined with the speed at which platinum solidifies once the heat is removed, means making the sprues is an expert task. It’s not something the average designer can include in his or her CAD model. Then there’s the issue of the surface quality of the wax print: how was it cleaned up? Or did the ring get made with the rough surface finish of the wax, and then filed and polished right at the end. However it was done, it wasn’t as simple as the article implies.