Metal 3D printing, or metal additive manufacturing, is poised to drive the 3D printing industry in the coming decade. It not only attracts attention from industry leaders, conglomerates, and governments but also sees a lot of investment, innovation, and research.
With the invention of novel technologies, new material development and qualification, and continuous improvements and enhancements in the supporting software solutions right from designing, build preparation, monitoring, scheduling, and post-processing.
All these improvements are leading Metal additive manufacturing to the digitalization of the manufacturing activities. But such professional technology is hard to learn for beginners and hardly any comprehensive or free resources are available to get educated. So Manufactur3D has published a “Getting Started with Metal 3D Printing” series that addresses these concerns. Through this series we aim to cover topics like metal additive manufacturing technologies, metal AM materials, software, and education.
Metal 3D Printing / Metal Additive Manufacturing
Metal 3D printing first originated in the early 1990s through the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology – a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology. Over the years the name SLS is limited only to the polymer printing whereas metal powder bed fusion technology is called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) or Selective Laser Melting (SLM).
Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) refers to the sub-category of 3D printing that deals with 3D printing of metals. Today we have a range of metal additive manufacturing technologies like the BMD, DMLS, SLM, EBAM, MELD, WAAM, etc. All these technologies use various metals including stainless steel, nickel, Inconel, Chromium, titanium, etc. in varied forms like filaments, rods, powders, wires, etc.
We will see this entire metal additive manufacturing ecosystem one by one in a series of articles.
Today, we have multiple metal additive manufacturing technologies. Some of the popular technologies are BMD, DMLS, SLM, Binder Jetting, and DED. Most of these technologies are used since the earliest days of 3D printing and have progressed a lot in terms of their ecosystem.
Metal 3D printers are generally used in factories for industrial manufacturing. Currently, they are not fully capable of mass production but they can surely drive series production. Companies like BMW, General Motors, and others have leveraged the technology to their advantage.
One of the most important barriers to the use of Metal 3D printers is its cost. An entry-level metal 3D printer can cost upwards of $60,000. This poses a major problem for small and medium enterprises. Additionally, metal 3D printers need additional equipment like depowdering station, debinders and sintering furnace.
The range of metal am technologies also confuse most end-users and they have to understand the ins-and-outs of all the technologies to finally select one for their needs and demands.
We will learn about these metal 3D printing technologies in the next article under this series. Stay tuned for the next article.
For a long time, metal additive manufacturing found minimal applicability due to its limited material library. Initially, only a few materials could be 3D printed and so only very specific companies and industries ever bought the technology.
But with continued research, the metal am materials library has expanded to include materials like stainless steel (316L & 17-4 PH), Inconel 625, Titanium 64 (Ti-6Al-4V), Copper, H13 Tool Steel, A2 & D2 Tool Steel, Aluminium (AlSi10Mg) and many more. So, the material research has led to the democratisation of the metal additive manufacturing technology.
But again, as far as cost is concerned, metal 3D printing materials are still costly thereby restricting its use for R&D companies, MNCs, and highly-specialized industries like aerospace and healthcare. But this is rapidly changing and it is expected that most engineering companies will incorporate metal 3D printers in the coming decade thereby lowering its costs.
We will learn about the metal 3D printing materials in one of our upcoming articles under this same series.
As we enter the booming phase of metal AM, designing becomes all the more important. While designing is important for 3D printing, designing for metal additive manufacturing is more than just important.
To enjoy the true benefits of 3D printing, designers will have to take advantage of designing freedom, part consolidation, and rapid customization capabilities of 3D printing. Without incorporating and implementing these capabilities, metal 3D printing designing software may never be feasible.
Powerful designing software suites like Dassault Systèmes Catia and SolidWorks, PTC Creo, Autodesk Fusion 360, and generative designing or topology optimization software suites like those from Altair, Autodesk, PTC, ParaMatters, and Siemens have taken designing to the next level.
We will learn about the metal additive manufacturing designing software in one of our upcoming articles under this same series.
Build Preparation Software
Metal AM is as dependent on its hardware as it is on its software solutions. It is safe to say that without the software solutions powering the hardware, 3D printing cannot become the force it is now, or will become in the coming future.
Besides the powerful designing software used for modelling highly complex designs for 3D printing, another software suite is equally critical viz., build preparation software.
Today’s build preparation software solutions are not only evolving rapidly but also helping achieve consistent and improved output resulting in faster printing times, better surface finish, and improved strength of printed parts.
These software suites now also incorporate data & machine learning for better parameter prediction for implementing them in the 3D printers. As the technology evolves, the software will only get better to augment the manufacturing possibilities.
We will learn about the metal additive manufacturing build preparation software in one of our upcoming articles under this same series.
Post-processing is highly important for metal additive manufacturing. All the technologies have to pass through some of the other post-processing stages. The post-processing can be support removal, depowdering, washing, debinding, sintering, and even surface finish operations.
Without post-processing, metal 3D printed parts cannot be directly used. In the subsequent article, we will learn which technologies need what type of post-processing and how to post-process metal 3D printed parts.
We will learn about the metal additive manufacturing post-processing in one of our upcoming articles under this same series.
Education and awareness of metal additive manufacturing is still a big challenge for the additive manufacturing industry and all the more for metal additive manufacturing. The knowledge and educational resources available in metal additive manufacturing are scarce and this is what makes its adoption all the more restrictive.
Companies willing to incorporate metal AM often face this issue of lack of knowledge about the technology in its employees. Therefore it becomes very important to educate employees in metal 3D printing principles, its operations, its workflow as well as troubleshooting.
We will learn about the metal AM education in one of our upcoming articles under this same series. You can check out our article on the top Universities that offer Courses in 3D Printing.
We conclude the introductory post on Getting Started with Metal 3D Printing. This article gave a glimpse of what all elements impact the technology and what role they play in the larger scheme of things.
In the next post, we will talk about the top metal additive manufacturing technologies. We will give you a glimpse of 10+ technologies and how they operate.
About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.