A rising variety of sectors can profit from the well-documented advantages of metal 3D printing. A complicated assembly can be designed in one piece thanks to the ability of a laser 3D printer metal to produce pieces with internal structures and geometries that are impossible to cast or otherwise fabricate. By doing so, the efficiency of the finished item is improved while saving time and labour during the assembly of the parts or when carrying out procedures like welding.
Rapidly producing working prototypes from the same material as production parts are now achievable thanks to metal additive manufacturing. Also, thanks to technology, producing speciality metal components for high-tech industries like aerospace is much less expensive and time-consuming. The cost of printing in titanium and speciality alloys is decreased because there is far less waste when using metal 3D printing.
Almost every business that requires metal parts or fixtures has profited from the time, money, labour, and material savings of metal 3D printing.
With increased office-ready printers offering quick returns on investment and production flexibility, metal 3D printing has recently become more accessible and affordable. Third-party 3D printing services have also advanced in their capabilities, removing the costs of maintaining your system.
In other words, the move to 3D-printed metal parts couldn’t come at a better moment. Every few months, we update and describe the technology underlying our in-depth coverage of the most reputable brands and cutting-edge machines used in metal additive manufacturing. We also examine what distinguishes them and highlight some promising alternatives.
The number of methods to 3D print metal exceeds ten. A solid understanding of your options is crucial because the various technologies result in slightly different parts and affect your overall cost, speed, and efficiency.
Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)
With over 80% of the market, laser powder bed fusion, sometimes called selective laser melting (SLM), is the most prevalent metal 3D printing process.
With LPBF, a laser (or several lasers) slowly and gradually melts layer after layer of metal powder, fusing the microscopic particles inside the metal. Many materials can be employed, including aluminium, titanium, iron, nickel, cobalt, copper-based alloys, and composites. Except for the potential need to remove the support structures, parts emerge from the LPBF operations ready to use. Unfortunately, depending on your needs, the sintered parts’ surface finish could be better and require additional post-processing.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) with Metal Filament
The workhorse of plastic 3D printing, FDM employs filament extruded through a nozzle. Still, when you use plastic filament loaded with metal powder or virtually full-metal filaments, it transforms into a metal printing process. In the post-processing, the plastic portion of the filament (or binder) is eliminated to reveal a component up to 98% metal, even though it may have high porosity. Steel extruders must be reinforced or hardened since metal filaments are abrasive to FDM machine extruders.
In a nutshell, everything revolves around your items’ structural and mechanical requirements. The metal components of these desktop printers are not merely ornamental, however. These are authentic metal components appropriate for various uses, such as tooling, jigs and fixtures, small series production, functional parts, prototypes, and even jewellery. Nevertheless, compared to other metal 3D printing technologies, the FDM print method is less precise and requires supports, which might restrict part geometry. Metal filament parts must also be deboned and sintered (typically by a third party), slowing production.
Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion (EBM)
EBM is another powder bed fusion technology that completely melts and fuses the metal components using an electron beam instead of a laser. Despite being less accurate than SLM, it can quickly make larger parts. The EBM process produces stress-relieved components with material properties superior to cast and comparable to wrought material, which occurs in a vacuum and at high temperatures.
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