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Equipment imported from the United States will meet the demands of several Centre projects; companies may contract the service

The FAPESP Shell Research Centre for Gas Innovation (RCGI) began the purchase process of a 3D printer for metal parts that will serve the demands of several projects of the Research Centre headquartered at the University of São Paulo (USP). About two months after the equipment acquisition is finalized, which is imported from the United States, it is expected to arrive in São Paulo. The price being negotiated is around US$ 155,000 (about R$ 850,000), and will be paid for by the Shell Company, via the Support Foundation of the University of São Paulo (FUSP).

“The advantage of this printer is that it can manufacture parts, directly in metal, that have complex formats, that is, things that cannot be made with conventional manufacturing methods,” states mechanical engineer Emílio Carlos Nelli Silva, Professor in USP’s Polytechnic School and Director of the RCGI’s Engineering Program. “We’re talking about parts that have many curves and have specific finishing specifications; there are no geometric limitations,” he says, and cites, as an example, the projects that attempt to develop labyrinth sealing joints, to avoid leaking of gases such as methane, in pipes, and supersonic separators, which are devices in tubular formats that aid in separating CO2 and CH4 gases.

Besides serving the RCGI’s researchers and professors and the academic community, the device – called Studio System™, developed and produced by U.S. company Desktop Metal – will become a part of a multi-user laboratory in the research center. “With this philosophy, the equipment can be rented, that is, contracted, by companies at market prices; with this income, we hope to keep up the maintenance of the printer,” Silva states.

According to the Director of the RCGI’s Engineering Program, the idea of the Centre acquiring a 3D metal printer, like this one, dates back to 2015, when the RCGI was founded, but it is materializing only now, after dealing with economic issues and the bureaucratic phases for acquiring high-priced equipment. “This process has gone back and forth, with the ups and downs of the dollar and all the rest, and finally came together.”

Consisting of basically three pieces of equipment – the printer itself, a tank for chemically processing the parts (debinder), and an oven producing temperatures as high as 1,400 degrees Celsius – the system, according to the researchers, is relatively compact (it requires a 50 square-meter space in the laboratory) and is lightweight, facilitating the installation and moving of the machines in a research laboratory. “With this technology, you don’t need much space. It is even smaller than another printer we have here using polymers,” states Francisco Oliveira, researcher of the Multiphysical Systems Optimization Laboratory (MSOL) of Poli-USP.

Silva says that another advantage of the system is that the printer uses cartridges with solid bound metal rods mixed with polymers, thus avoiding the risks of working with powdered metal in the lab. The produced parts can have a maximum size of 15 centimeters (cm) high, by 25 cm wide, and 15 cm deep. Furthermore, a prototype can be readied within one to three days, whereas a complex part made from a mold can take weeks or months to be ready via the conventional method.

To the present time, the RCGI’s researchers on projects, such as labyrinth sealing joints, used polymer printers. “The metal printer shows how feasible it is to make a metal part,” Silva says.

“This equipment will assist with the RCGI’s and the University’s internal projects and it also fits into the academic concept of spreading this technology – called additive manufacturing – which is growing not only in Brazil, but around the world. It is a game changing technology, aptly called disruptive, of traditional manufacturing processes,” Oliveira says. “So, the students and researchers who have had contact with this type of technology also help spreading this knowledge not only through the RCGI, but also among the players taking part in this process.”

According to the researchers, the new RCGI equipment and the laboratory where it will be installed will support the Brazil Additive Manufacturing Hub, which is an initiative of the Institute for Technological Research (IPT), created to spread the knowledge of this technology that is currently used more in the medical, aerospace, and automotive areas.

Learn more about the 3D metal printer that is being acquired by the RCGI on the site https://www.desktopmetal.com/products/studio