Platinum producer Lonmin has contributed to the completion of a 3D printing prototype of pure platinum jewellery using Selective Laser Melting (SLM), the first of its kind in South Africa.
The launch of the prototype was revealed at the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) conference in Durban. The process of producing functional parts using additive manufacturing required the complement of different skills, including the design for the 3D prototype, powder production, machine parameter settings and post- treatment processing. Purposively, Platforum, a partnership consisting of the Central University of Technology, North West University, Vaal University of Technology and Lonmin, initiated the 3D printing project in June 2016.
Wilma Swarts, head of marketing at Lonmin and director of Platforum, explained the significance of the printing of the prototype, ‘3D technology has gained in popularity in recent years, and the introduction of the additive manufacturing using precious metals will contribute and add to the range of applications where the properties of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs) are used.’
Lonmin’s contribution to the project involved the production of the platinum powder. Initial trials were conducted from August 2016 to produce pure platinum powder to suit the specifications for the additive manufacturing printing process. In October 2017, the platinum powder was tested, the machine parameters optimised and prototypes finally printed.
Additive manufacturing using precious metals creates new opportunities for value-added processing and mineral beneficiation using PGMs, ‘The reveal showcases the potential of 3D printing of PGMs. Through additive manufacturing, intricate and lightweight PGM products can be manufactured at speed, presenting new opportunities for PGMs, socio-economic development, Lonmin and the platinum mining sector,’ concluded Swarts.
Looking ahead, the Platforum will explore the potential of 3D printing using precious metals to produce PGM alloys and existing but also new and novel applications for the medical, energy and the automotive industries.