3D Printing on Metal: What are the Possibilities?

Although you might associate 3D printing with plastic materials such as ABS and PLA, it’s also possible to print high-quality, complex parts on metal. With this process offering the same benefits as plastic materials, metal 3D printing allows companies to develop custom-made pieces and prototypes in just a few days.

Developing bespoke parts using traditional manufacturing methods can be incredibly costly. But metal 3D printing is a cost-effective alternative that sees companies gain the ability to make adjustments and updates without experiencing production delays that last weeks or even months.

Types of Metal 3D Printing Technologies

Traditional manufacturing methods certainly have their place, but metal 3D printing allows for a far greater range of complex design possibilities and this innovative method can be hugely beneficial. For companies that require complicated and custom moving parts and gears, tooling, fixtures, motor parts such as rotors and impellers, cooling channels and etc, metal 3D printing are able to produce parts with the same mechanical properties equivalent to a cast metal parts.

Consider the following popular metal 3D printing processes to determine which one makes sense for your needs:

1. DMLS – Direct Metal Laser Sintering

DMLS made popular by EOS Gmbh is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology that uses a laser to scan and fuse precise metal powder particles. These granular substances are subsequently bonded together to gradually form the product layer-by-layer. Popular metal use are stainless steel and titanium. While DMLS is relatively similar to Selective Laser Melting (SLM), the former uses metal alloys to produce parts.

2. SLM – Selective Laser Melting

As mentioned above, SLM 3D printing follows much the same process as DMLS when making metal parts. The most significant difference between the two methods is that SLM uses a single metal instead of alloys. The single metal materials are Ni based super alloys, copper, aluminium, stainless steel, tool steel, cobalt chrome, titanium and tungsten. With several types of metals available for 3D printing, SLM printing is practical for a wide range of applications.

3. WAAM – Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing

WAAM is a cost-effective metal 3D printing technology that melts metal wire using an electric arc as its heat source. Working with several wire metals, including stainless steel, titanium alloys, nickel alloy and aluminium alloys, WAAM is best used to produce larger metal parts in size of up to and over 1 meter, but it can’t achieve the high-quality definition that most powder bed fusion technologies can. Further post processing on the metal part will be required to achieve the optimal surface finishing and dimensional accuracy according to the CAD file.

4. DED – Direct Energy Deposition

Like powder bed fusion technologies, DED uses a single laser or electron beam to melt metal. With the material extruded via a nozzle, the part is slowly created as each layer is added. Although it’s possible to produce entirely new components using DED, it’s frequently used to repair industrial elements such as aeroplane propellers.

5. EBAM – Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing

Electron-beam additive manufacturing, or electron-beam melting (EBM) is a type of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, for metal parts. The raw material (metal powder or wire) is placed under a high vacuum and fused together from heating by an electron beam.

Materials for 3D Printing on Metal

When it comes to metal 3D printing, there are many different types of materials that can be used effectively. These include a range of single metals – such as titanium, stainless steel, copper, aluminium and cobalt-chrome – alongside various grades of nickel- and titanium-based alloys.

This ensures metal 3D printing is productive for a myriad of applications. However, it’s vital to understand that the type of metal material chosen will dictate what kind of part can be produced. In addition, this impacts the level of detail, complexity and strength that can be achieved.

Consideration of Metal 3D Printing

There’s no doubt that 3D printing parts is advantageous for a wide variety of businesses. Compared to traditional manufacturing methods when developing small batches of bespoke parts, 3D printing is a cost-effective approach that delivers greater design freedom and a higher quality product. However, as there are numerous metal 3D printing technologies available for different purposes, the investment into having a metal 3D printing solution and complete system in house comes with a big price tag starting from hundreds of thousand to millions of dollars. Besides the huge financial investment upfront, assembling an experience and competent team in house to run and maintain the complex metal 3D printing solution and systems is a long-term operation expenses annually since the ROI from the equipment is better achieved if the production is running daily on producing jobs or orders for metal 3D printed parts. If your current requirement for metal 3D printing is for a small batches or quantity, the next best option is outsourcing using 3D printing service that makes the most sense for your company in Singapore will depend on your industry and intended application.

This ensures metal 3D printing is productive for a myriad of applications. However, it’s vital to understand that the type of metal material chosen will dictate what kind of part can be produced. In addition, this impacts the level of detail, complexity and strength that can be achieved.

Bring Out the Complexity of Your Metal Parts Today

As the technology behind 3D printing parts is constantly evolving, it’s possible to develop unique metal parts with other hybrid printing processes that combine CNC, milling and forging with additive manufacturing. To find out more about metal 3D printing, Get in touch with our expert team at Additive3D Asia to discover how our 3D printing service will help your next project become a massive success in Singapore and globally.