Some History on The Virtual Foundry
What is The Virtual Foundry? Essentially it's the quest to create high quality metal sculpture, jewelry and anything you can print, without requiring a complete, high-end, metals studio. This quest actually started well before 3D printing became a viable option. Earlier versions relied on combinations of cold casting and electroforming. Using these techniques we were able to create some striking copper objects. When 3D printing came into our lives, our first thought was that if it can't print metal, it has relatively little value. So began our 3 year quest to develop a product that would let any desktop 3D printer create pure metal output. After some early successes with high levels of metal infusion, we were able to produce about 20 pounds of what we now call Filamet™. This was enough to print some prototypes and develop a proof of concept. From here we looked to Crowdfunding as a way of bringing this development to market. Last year we did a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising about 135% of our target funding goal.
This put our move from prototype to production into motion. Our early intent was to contract out manufacturing. After a series of meetings we concluded that we were not going to be able to find a vendor willing to put our secret recipe of exotic materials through their multi-million dollar plastics equipment. After this conclusion we set out to design our own system. We bought a 40 horsepower single screw extruder. Since there was really no product like this on the market, existing handling equipment just wasn't quite up to the job. Over the year following our Kickstarter we designed and custom built all of our own processing equipment. Being of the Maker generation, and Glenn being a highly skilled machinist (and Certified Master Metalsmith), we wound up with a set of custom machinery that can create product at a pace that exceeds our most aggressive estimates. For the nerds, all of our custom equipment is run by micro-controllers, some PIC's, mostly Arduino.
So, today, we are manufacturing very large amounts of very high quality, high purity, 3D printing filament. We keep improving this number, but our current products are running at 90% metal. We consider the theoretical maximum metal content to be in the neighborhood of 95%.
What can you do with our products?
Some people simply Print and Polish their items. Some people use heat to process the binders out of the final print. This leaves a high purity metal object printable with even the least expensive printer on the market. To prove this point, all prototypes were printed on a Printrbot Simple® (the original plywood and zip-tie version). Currently you can print with Bronze and Copper. Next up is Brass and soon after that will be some type of grey metal, most likely Nickel-Silver.