When David Hartkop was a film student at Layola Marymount University in Los Angeles in the 1990s he got his first taste of how 3D printing could impact the world. Then, the machines were massive compared to recent 3D printer advancement, and they weren’t cost effective to use in many markets.
Today, Hartkop, who helped bring Solar Roast Coffee Company to Pueblo with his brother, is working on bringing a 3D printer that prints metal objects, instead of plastic, mainstream so hobbyists and jewelry makers can utilize a machine that is fast, cost effective and precise for their craft.
It’s the DIY’s 3D printer.
The Mini Metal Maker, at 9 in wide and 18 in tall, uses metal clay to print. A cartridge filled with the clay makes the object, which then has to be fired in a kiln. Essentially, the clay is fired away leaving the metal with fuses together to create a solid metal object. Metal clay is popular among jewelry makers, the Mini Metal Maker helps to create an exact product each time.
The heat from the kiln does shrink the object a little bit. So, Hartkop said, if somebody was printing parts or objects that work together, they’d want to fire them together to get an even finish.
“Virtually anything you would need for jewelry making can be produced by the machine,” Hartkop said. It’s meant for small objects. But what’s the possibility of creating something much larger for something such as metal piping? Or, steel beams to support a building?
It could be possible, he said. Maybe in the future it could work, but it’d require a lot of clay and a monstrous kiln.
The clay has to be consistent. Wet clay is loaded into a cartridge and basically prints like a regular 3D printer, which prints by layer. The clay cartridges have different sized nozzles for different projects. A smaller nozzle for a project that requires higher resolution, or detail. The machine also has a patent pending nozzle bath system to extend nozzle lifetime.
“(The project) takes getting organized in a way you never have before.” – David Hartkop
Hartkop has submitted three other patents he has submitted related to the Mini Metal Maker.
The machine prints at about half the speed as a plastic 3D printer. But getting the project to where it is today took on a slightly slower pace.
Hartkop first built a wooden prototype at home. After completing an Indiegogo campaign Hartkop was able to produce a study metal machine.
Now, the goal is to raise $150,000 by April 15 to commercialize it and get it to the consumer. Basically, that money moves the project out of Hartkop’s basement.
While making the initial metal machines Hartkop’s home was filled with parts.
“It was basically a big assembly line,” he said.
He’d even rope people into putting the machines together when they’d come over. Dinner would turn into putting circuit modules in power boards.
“(The project) takes getting organized in a way you never have before,” Hartkop said. Everything goes together a certain way.
Though Hartkop is assembling the machines with his wife and friends, the major parts are being made locally.
The base is being made by D&B Precision Products in Colorado Springs and the linear guides are being made by American Precision Machining in Pueblo.
“I’d like to do more local,” Hartkop said.
Donating to the 45-day long campaign comes with swag. $25 will get you the building plans for your own Mini Metal Maker. $1,500 will land you a pre assembled machine ready to go. $600 more allows you to customize the color.
*A previous edition of this article incorrectly identified David Hartkop as an engineering student at Layloa Marymount University. He studied film and graduated in 2000. The maker was also reported as 9 cm wide and 18 cm and built in his garage. It is 9 in by 18 in and was first built at Hartkop’s home.