History OF THE Virtual Foundry
What is The Virtual Foundry? Essentially it's the quest to create high quality metal 3D prints 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, launching a successful Kickstarter campaign which raised 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, 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 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%.
Brad Woods, Inventor
Brad's life-long fondness for metallurgy and background in software engineering spurred a quest to study various methods of fabricating metal. It started in electrodepostion and shifted more to powdered metallurgy shortly after. The next logical step brought him to 3D printing. After printing his first object in plastic, the need for a metal solution became very clear and The Virtual Foundry was born.
In his search for printable metal, Brad knew that an important aspect of creating this tool would be wide usability. Developing what would become an open architecture solution led to the creation of Filamet™, a sinterable, high metal-content 3D printing filament that can be used in any Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printer.
His love for this work continues with the constant development of new materials and the ongoing research for other methods of metal fabrication.
"This point in history sets the stage for the future of metal 3D printing, and the technologies developed by The Virtual Foundry are becoming the standards." ~Woods