Sandvik introduces diamond composite for 3D printing

Sandvik Additive Manufacturing announces today it has created the first ever 3D printed diamond composite. The new process means this super-hard material can now be 3D printed in highly complex shapes, opening the door to revolutionise how industry uses diamond, the hardest natural material on the planet.

This new material is in the early stages of commercialization. The process requires complicated post-print processing to successfully harden the product. The difference between Sandvik’s diamond and natural or synthetic diamond is that Sandvik produces a composite material. Most of the material is diamond, but to make it printable and dense it needs to be cemented in a very hard matrix material, keeping the most important physical properties of pure diamond.

“Historically, 3D printing in diamond was something that none of us imagined was achievable,” explained Anders Ohlsson, Delivery Manager at Sandvik Additive Manufacturing. “Even now we are just starting to grasp the possibilities and applications that this breakthrough could have.”

Sandvik’s process uses the oldest commercial 3D printing technology, stereolithography (STL). Key patents have expired on STL, making it easier for researchers to use for experimental processes and potential new products. In stereolithography, a slurry consisting of diamond powder and polymer is laid down, layer by layer, using ultraviolet light for initial hardening. STL is off patent, but Sandvik has a patent pending for the diamond composite process.

Diamond is harder than anything else in nature. It is a key component in a large range of wear resistant tools in industry, from mining and drilling to machining and also medical implants. Since 1953 it has been possible to produce synthetic diamonds, but since it’s so hard and complicated to machine, it is almost impossible to form complex shapes.

Until now, production of super hard diamond materials only has allowed for a few simple geometric configurations to be formed. By using additive manufacturing and a tailor-made, proprietary post-processing method, Sandvik has managed to 3D-print diamond composites which can be formed into almost any shape.

The research so far shows the new method carries a sustainability advantage. The diamond powder in Sandvik’s process can be extracted from the polymer in the slurry after the printing, and then be recycled and reused in another print job.

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