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Is Lockheed Martin really building a diamond 3D printer?

Is that even possible?

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News have been circulating about a patent that inventor David J Findley filed for Lockheed Martin for a diamond 3D printer capable of creating diamond objects in any shape. Does this mean we are soon going to be 3D printing diamonds? The short answer is probably not, however the patent is definitely real and – while it does open up the perspective of creating artificial diamonds in any shape and geometry – it is actually quite similar to current – albeit still mostly experimental – technologies to 3D print objects using high performance ceramics and zirconia, such as the ones from Lithoz, 3DCeram and Prodways. Not to mention that, since diamonds are notoriously difficult to cut (i.e. shape subtractively), being able to shape them additively would make plenty of sense.

diamondThese are the patent’s references:

Patent History Publication number: 20160214272 Type: Application Filed: Apr 4, 2016 Publication Date: Jul 28, 2016 Inventor: David G. Findley (Forth worth, TX) Application Number: 15/090,289

Classifications International Classification: B28B 1/00 (20060101); B28B 11/00 (20060101); C04B 35/524 (20060101);

In other words the patent is based on the concept that we can 3D print using many different minerals – including ceramics – by mixing them with pre-ceramic polymers. These polymers are then jetted or deposited through different methods as the layers are cured. Once the 3D object is complete, it undergoes a firing process which melts away the pre-ceramic polymers and then another one at higher temperatures to sinter together the mineral particles.

In the Lockheed Martin patent the same concept is applied to a diamond nanoparticle powder (how that is produced is not clear but nanoparticle powders – such as those used in XJet’s nanorparticle jetting technology – are becoming more common as methods of producing them are becoming less expensive. IN fact the patent itself acknoledges that “(3-D) printing techniques with a pre-ceramic polymer and nanoparticle powder may allow for the creation of objects made of a variety of ceramics in a variety of useful shapes.

“In particular – the patent application goes on to state –  using 3-D printing techniques with a diamond forming pre-ceramic polymer and a diamond nanoparticle powder may allow for the creation of diamond objects in a variety of shapes. For example, using 3-D printing with a diamond forming pre-ceramic polymer and a diamond nanoparticle powder, a diamond drill bit having almost any geometry could be printed.” Other examples of objects which may benefit from diamond unique thermal conductivity, electrical insulation, hardness and high melting/boling point are brake pad inserts, avionics boxes, lightweight armor, diamond dialysis filters, vacuum micro-electronics.

The possibilities, as is often the case with 3D printing, are almost endless. However today we are still waiting to see high performance 3D printed ceramics make a real dent in the prototyping industry (as we have been promised some two to three years ago that they would), so we will not hold our breath for the diamond 3D printer to make it to market within the next five years. When it does, though, it will be a pretty sight.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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