At this year’s Maker Faire in NYC, a company called Monolith Studio showed off their new benchtop metal coater, the Orbit 1.
The Orbit 1 is designed to deposit a metal plating onto 3D printed plastic parts, and can work with nickel, copper, lead, and even gold. They advertise that it can be used on conductive and non-conductive parts, but thus far the examples we’ve seen show the results you get with plastic objects.
The company says that this will be useful for making prototypes, durable mechanical parts, jewelry, and electronic parts.
Finished metal-plated parts are conductive, at least across their surfaces, and are made to be stronger and more durable.
The first step is to prepare the 3D printed object. For best results, prints should be vapor-polished using acetone or a similar solvent. This method smooths out the steps and edges between printed layers.
Then, non-conductive prints are sprayed with a conductive coating or paint to promote adhesion with the metal plating.
Finally, the Orbit 1 bath solution is prepared and the part is placed inside for the plating process, which takes about 60 minutes.
At Maker Faire, the Orbit 1 prototype was in action, plating a printed bear. The object that’s being coated is hung from what looks to be a coated wire hanger and slowly rotated in the bath.
Details such as the price of the Orbit 1 coater, supporting equipment (if any), consumables, and raw materials are not yet available. Monolith Studio plans to introduce the Orbit 1 in January 2015 with a KickStarter fundraising campaign.
It is planned that the Orbit 1 will be controlled by an iOS and Android-compatible app.
The quality of the coating is reasonably good, but doesn’t compare to what you see with professional-grade coaters. As you might think, the starting print quality and attention to surface preparation will have a big impact on the quality of the plating finish.
The copper-coated head was very nicely done, with smooth contours and even thickness.
There was also a three-dimensional object that was built with bare and metal plated 3D printed parts. The coating quality here was a little lower, but not all that terrible.
Achieving proper results will probably take some trial and error for different material shapes.
The Orbit 1 that was on show at Maker Faire was a little rough in appearance, but didn’t look all that bad. Following is a rendering of what Monolith Studio has in mind for production models, although things can still change as they finalize the design.
More Info(via Monolith Studio)
It’s too early to judge the Orbit 1, as there’s just not enough information out there, but I’m optimistic about it. The copper-plated examples I saw at Maker Faire were mostly nicely coated, even the complex lattice-structured bear.
If the price is right, the Orbit 1 might be a great way to achieve metal finishes with ordinary 3D PLA and ABS plastic filament printers.