Design Engineering

Soluble metal supports solve overhang problem in 3D printed objects


Additive Manufacturing 3D printing

The soluble metal support is removed via electrochemical etching in nitric acid with bubbling oxygen.

When it comes to 3D printing complex objects, designers have to face the challenge of supporting the overhanging parts of an object during the print process. Overhanging surfaces often require support structures to be fabricated and minimize thermally induced distortion. For the most part, soluble sacrificial support materials have not been identified for metallic materials. Currently, support structures in 3D printed metals must be removed using post-processing machining operations.

Dissolvable Metal Support for 3D Direct Metal PrintingA group of researchers believe they have come up with a solution to this problem.

The team, Owen Hildreth, Arizona State University (Tempe), Abdalla Nassar and Timothy Simpson, Pennsylvania State University (State College, PA), and Kevin Chasse, Naval Surface Warfare Center (W. Bethesda, MD), have proposes a technique that could dramatically reduce the amount of post-processing needed for 3D-printed metal components to remove support structures.

The researchers fabricated dissolvable carbon steel structures using 3D printing technology that can provide temporary support for components of larger stainless steel structures made by additive manufacturing. And the team expects their method to be applicable to a broad range of metals and even oxides.


The soluble metal is removed via electrochemical etching in nitric acid with bubbling oxygen.

“This innovative new approach using Directed Energy Deposition for 3D printing of dissolvable metallic components, without the need for machining operations to remove the sacrificial support materials, creates opportunities for new types of applications,” says Editor-in-Chief Skylar Tibbits, Director, Self-Assembly Lab, MIT, and Founder & Principal, SJET LLC. “I’m excited to see what effects this research has on the future of metal printing.”

The article “Dissolvable Metal Supports for 3D Direct Metal Printing” demonstrates an application of this novel approach, in which the researchers printed and later dissolved a metal structure to support a 90° overhang.

This advancement could make it much easier for designers that now have a solution for dealing with overhang elements in 3D printed objects.


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