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3D Printers

We can now 3D-print diamond material -- but not for jewelry

Sandvik's process is for ultradurable products like machine tools.

Sandvik showed off this 3D printed diamond shape, but it's made from diamond powder in a polymer composite, not pure crystalline diamond.

Sandvik showed off this 3D-printed diamond shape, but it's made from diamond powder in a polymer composite, not pure crystalline diamond.

Sandvik

We've got 3D-printed plastics and 3D-printed metals. Now you can add 3D-printed diamond materials to the list.

Sandvik, a Swedish company specializing in mining, materials science and metalworking, has developed a way to make diamond composite materials with the 3D-printing technology called additive manufacturing. The material can be formed into many custom shapes, but think of ultradurable drills, not exotic earrings.

One reason the 3D-printed approach is interesting is that it's otherwise very difficult to shape diamond-based materials. That's because -- stop me if you've heard this one before -- diamond is the hardest substance in nature.

The development might not revolutionize jewelry, but it does show how 3D printing has the potential to change manufacturing. It's gradually moving from the realm of prototyping to actual factories, where products can be 3D-printed in high volume.

Sandvik's process lays down a slurry of diamond powder and a polymer matrix material layer by layer, treated with ultraviolet light as it goes. A further step afterward makes it extremely hard, the company said Wednesday at the RAPID + TCT 3D printing show in Detroit.

Used in machine tools, the 3D-printed diamond composite material is durable enough to last 10 times longer than silicon carbide and 100 times longer than wear-resistant steel, Sandvik said.

It's not clear how much products made with the process cost, though, or when they might be available. Sandvik didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.