Teen Invents Liquid-Metal 3D Printer With Potential to Transform Manufacturing

The idea of a teenage inventor who wanted to create a prototype for a project he was working on has developed into 3D printing machine that can print objects out of molten metal and has the potential to transform manufacturing.

The idea of a teenage inventor who wanted to create a prototype for a project he was working on has developed into 3D printing machine that can print objects out of molten metal and has the potential to transform manufacturing.

Five years ago, then 19-year-old Zachary Vader aimed to 3D-print in metal a proof of concept for a gas turbine generator that he was working on. Vader was a student at the University at Buffalo (UB) at the time.

When he realized that 3D metal printing wasn’t a viable option for the project, he decided to do something about it, inventing his own metal printer with the help of his father Scott, a mechanical engineer.

“We surveyed different approaches, looking for processes that would use the lowest-cost input material and also allow a fast deposition rate,” Scott Vader told Design News. “The direct-jetting process [we settled on] is attractive for both of those reasons.”

metal 3D printing Vadar
Two products printed with a machine developed by Vader System, a father-son-led startup in upstate New York. Scott and Zachary Vader developed a machine that prints from molten metal based on an idea Zachary had for a project when he was a at the University at Buffalo. (Source: Douglas Levere)

The breakthrough in Zachary’s invention came when he thought to expose molten metal in a confined chamber with an orifice to a pulsed magnetic field, the Vaders said. The transient field induces a pressure with the metal that ejects a droplet, which was the key to making droplets of liquid metal eject from a nozzle.
Now Vader Systems is producing and marketing the machine Zachary invented, with the younger Vader serving as CTO of the company. Scott Vader is CEO while Zachary’s mother, Pat Roche, is the company controller.

The machine represents a major leap forward in the ability to print 3D objects in metal, according to University at Buffalo engineers. While other metal printers exist, most use a process of laying down powered metal and melting it with a laser or electron beam. This process is flawed because some particles of the powder do not get melted, creating weakened spots.

In the Vader Systems machine, called the Mk1, an electrically pulsed magnetic field permeates liquid metal in an ejection chamber and creates circulating electrical currents that interact with the magnetic field to produce a pressure that squeezes a droplet out of the ejector nozzle.

“The technology--which we call “MagnetoJet” (patent pending)--is surprisingly simple,” Scott Vader explained. “Metal wire is fed into a heated chamber, where it becomes molten. This molten media is then propelled electromagnetically from a carefully crafted nozzle. The process mimics drop-on-demand inkjet technology and is based upon the principles of magnetohydrodynamics, or the manipulation of conductive fluids using a magnetic field.”

“It’s a transformative technology,” said Edward  Furlani, a professor in UB’s Chemical and Biological Engineering and Electrical Engineering departments. “It’s very exciting, interdisciplinary engineering. I think its application base will continue to broaden and expand for the foreseeable future.”

Vader agreed that the machine is ground-breaking for a number


About 20 years ago, I was in an IBM research facility in Austin, TX, that had a system printing molten solder using a similar technique I think they referred to as magneto-hydrodynamic jetting. I don't think that they ever developed it commercially. We also did some work with piezo-driven jetting of solder with a company called MicroFab, I think, in Plano, TX. We had a system, and were stacking 50 micron solder balls into tall columns with it, among other things. Granted, solder is not aluminum.

Vadar... I just can't get past that. I am shocked there wasn't one Star Wars comment in the whole article. I mean, come one, Magnetojet? LOL this is too cool. Besides that, this is very cool stuff. :)

Magnetohydrodynamics! Wow, a blast from the '80's where we were horizontally casting 1.5, 2.5 and 3" Dia aluminum alloy billet thru a motor stator. We were spinning magnetic field around the solidifying zone and stirring the aluminum and creating a spheroidal structure alloy which would later be heated to semi-solid in an induction coil and formed into high quality, heat treatable, aluminum parts. MHD has come a long way and cut out the middle process of reheating. Live long and prosper Vader!

and the board members will be saying, "Vader, what is thy bidding?" Cool stuff. Having some jewelers in the family, I had wondered when 3D printing from molten metal would be available.

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