Guide to Metal 3D Printers

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Guide to Metal 3D Printers

Introduction

There’s been a lot of hype around metal 3D printing over the last few years; while you’d be forgiven for thinking it sounded like science fiction, metal 3D printers are now being used in businesses up and down the country.

As a result of breakthroughs in technology, making it cheaper, metal additive manufacturing has experienced considerable growth in recent years.

However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise since metal is considered to be at the apex of 3D printing as it guarantees durability and strength that plastics just cannot supply.

This increased traction has brought about many advancements in relevant technologies that completely change the 3D printing landscape.

But if you still don’t know much about metal 3D printing, worry not. Here’s a detailed guide on everything you need to know about 3D metal printers, after reading; you’ll better understand the hype around this technology and maybe want to get yourself involved!

What Is Metal 3D Printing? 

Metal 3D printing is a manufacturing process that uses metal powder as the material during 3D printing. Because this laser-based technology uses metal powder, handling it can be dangerous and challenging when it’s in a raw state. Despite this shortcoming, powdered metal is the preferred option because of its distinct features. This is the reason that many of the metal 3D printing technologies opt for powdered metal. 

What Are the Different Types of Metal 3D Printers? 

The major difference between the various kinds of 3D printers is the method of fusing the powder to the metal parts. These techniques differ significantly and range from fusing loose powder using high energy lasers and extruding attached metal powder filament. 

With this said, let’s see the different types of metal 3D printers, how they operate, and their benefits. 

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

Most Powder Bed Fusion metal 3D printers are Selective Laser Melting (SLM) Machines. They are also referred to as Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF), Direct Metal Printing (DMP), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).

Once you’ve printed your object on an SLM machine, you remove the build platform from the printer and cut away the part from the build plate, and then post-processes this part.

SLM is pretty much the standard for the 3D printing of metal, with many companies making and selling SLM metal 3D printers. 

These metal 3D printers are an excellent choice if you want to print parts that are geometrically complex and precise. This is something that can’t be achieved by other machines. In addition to this, these parts may be used in a broad range of applications, from aerospace, dental to healthcare. 

Direct Energy Deposition Metal 3D Printers 

This type of metal 3D printer uses a laser and metal feedstock when fabricating parts. The laser and the stock, which you can use either a wire or powder, are placed on the single print head, which produces and consequently fuses the material. Parts created using this machine looks the same as those made using the Powder Bed Fusion bed printer, albeit having a few distinguishing features and differences. 

Powder Bed Fusion Metal 3D Printers 

These metal 3D printers are currently the most popular option among most 3D printing enthusiasts. They distribute a thin powder layer over the build plate and selectively melt a part’s cross-section into a powder layer. The two unique kinds of printing methods employed by these 3D printers are:

Binder Jetting Metal 3D Printers 

This type of metal 3D printer is ideal for high fidelity and large-scale 3D metal printing. It’s a popular choice because of its scalability and speed and might be the printer that allows for large scale additive manufacturing of 3D printed parts. 

The Binder jetting machine works by uniformly distributing the metal powder across the print bed, thereby creating an unbound layer. When fabricating a part, the jetting head spreads the binding polymer according to the object’s cross-section shape while loosely sticking the powder. This process is repeated until the final build has been completed. 

Powder DED Metal 3D Printers 

Also referred to as Blown Powder or Laser Material Deposition, this 3D printer is a sibling to the Selective Laser Melting metal 3D printer. It uses metal powder and laser when fabricating a 3D printed part. The difference from SLM machines is that DED 3D metal printers accurately blow powder from a print head to a part and then use an on-head laser when fusing it to the construction part. 

Electron Beam Melting (EBM) 

This metal 3D printer uses electronic beams and not laser when creating parts. These parts are less precise than those printed using SLM metal 3D printers. However, the printing process is a lot quicker with this ideal when you’re printing bigger parts. 

This metal 3D printer is almost identical to the SLM machines regarding costs, issues, and constraints. They also need a dedicated technician to operate it and are mostly used in the medical and aerospace fields. 

Wire DED Metal 3D Printers 

These metal 3D printers melt feedstock using a laser in a style identical to the power DED machine. The distinguishing difference is on the feedstock with this machine using blown powder rather than metal wire. You should opt for this metal 3D printer when printing in large volumes and hoping to achieve faster print times. However, it isn’t the go-to choice when looking for parts of superb precision and quality. 

Bound Powder Extrusion Metal 3D Printer 

The bound powder extrusion metal 3D printing machines are relatively new entrants into the field of 3D printing but are showing glimpses of great potential. Unlike all the other methods mentioned above, these machines don’t make use of free metal powder. They instead bind together the powder to create a waxy polymer identical to a metal injection molding. 

This leads to a material which is a lot simpler to use and safer than loose powder. You can even handle bound powder extrusion material with your hands without needing to put in place the safety precautions implemented by loose powder equipment. 

What are the Advantages of Metal 3D Printing? 

You may have heard that metal 3D printing will revolutionize manufacturing and engineering, but why is that, and how is it going to change the world so much?

Cost Savings

Metal 3D printing is an additive and not a subtractive process, meaning only the required material is used when making a 3D printed part. The 3D printer does this by printing layer by layer instead of cutting out a big portion to create the desired part. This means that you only add material in the required places, reducing the amount of material needed to make a particular component. 

Reduced Lead Times 

Another advantage of metal 3D printing is a quicker transition from designing to the final object’s production. Much of this time gets saved because there’s no specific machine needed when processing the parts once you’re done using the 3D printer. All that you’re required to do is processing the parts once the 3D printer completes printing. 

This saves you much post-processing time you would have otherwise wasted if you weren’t using a metal 3D printer. As a result, 3D printing metal parts leads to the reduction from weeks to a couple of days. 

You Can Use A Broad Range of Materials 

The number of materials you can use with your metal 3D printer is getting bigger with each passing day. Some of the most common metals used when 3D printing are maraging steel, aluminum, titanium, and stainless steel. Other composites and a broad range of mechanical properties and different advantages can also be used on a metal 3D printer, and the list is only getting longer!

New Design Possibilities

One unique aspect of metal 3D printers is that you can fabricate parts with unique geometries, unlike any that can be designed using the traditional methods. These parts include the ultra-complex such topology optimized parts designed using generative software and process optimized parts such as injection molds that feature custom manifold design or conformal cooling channels. 

Such parts are characterized by complex shapes or curves, which can’t be achieved using a conventional manufacturing method like 5-axis machining.

What are the Best Models of Metal 3D Printer? 

Now that you’re enlightened on metal 3D metal printers, the question that must be ringing in your head is, which is the best model? If so, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered, and here are some of the best models of metal 3D printers you should consider. 

Desktop Metal Studio 

Are you searching for a metal 3D printer that can fit on your desk? If so, look no further since the Desktop Metal Studio is a perfect choice you can use in your office. It also features a furnace and utilizes a process called Microwave Enhanced Sintering when printing parts that can be ready within one hub. 

You don’t have to pay a premium for this metal 3D printer since it’s reasonably priced. It guarantees this without compromising features and capabilities because it can capably reach printing speeds of 16cm3/hr. This has made it a popular choice among many users, especially those who’re still perfecting their 3D printing skills. 

The Desktop Metal Studio printer features a filament that contains many tiny metal rods. While debinding using this 3D printer, the binding materials (polymer binders and wax) dissolve due to the proprietary liquid constituent. This part becomes spongy and must be placed in a furnace so the particles can fuse and become dense. 

Sharebot MetalOne Metal 3D Printer 

The Sharebot metal 3D printer has a 65 x 65 x 100 mm build volume and uses the DMLS 3D printing technology. The appealing aspects of the Sharebot MetalOne 3D printer, other than being affordable, is that it’s easy to use, clean and change the powder. With this metal 3D printer, you’re able to create 3D printed parts that are accurate plus test a broad range of designs and ideas. 

ExOne X1 25Pro 

If you want a metal 3D printer suitable for larger-scale production, ExOne X1 25Pro is an excellent pick. With this machine, you are provided with more capabilities, unlike the entry-level metal 3D printers, as well as a bigger size. Therefore, you shouldn’t have any trouble printing on a large scale fine MIM powders. 

Besides printing metal materials, this 3D printer is also suitable for printing composite and ceramic materials while still guaranteeing exceptional precision. The features integrated into it include a power spreading and compacting system integrated on the Innovent+ as well as ultrasonic dispensing technology. This metal 3D printer can also be capable of printing sturdy 3D parts at astonishing speeds of up to 220 in3/hour. 

Digital Metal DM P2500 

In your search for the best model of metal 3D printers, you must not forget to check out the Digital Metal DM P2500. This machine capably prints 3D metal parts that feature a medical-grade surface quality of about 0.006mm and a high accuracy of 0.001mm.

An exciting aspect of this metal 3D printer is that it can recycle almost 100% of the excess powder for future projects. 

If you want a machine that allows you to reliably and efficiently make 3D printed parts, this is what you need to get. This machine is a certified metal 3D printer and can be used on certified metal materials. 

Concept Laser XLine 2000R 

This metal 3D printer is the biggest powder metal 3D printer you can find on the market. It’s a high-performance production 3D printer that features two 1,000-watt lasers to ensure the production times are reduced. Moreover, it has a build volume of 800 x 400 x 500 mm, making it an ideal choice for printing bigger metal parts such as those used in the aerospace and automotive industries. 

The Concept Laser XLine 2000R can be used to 3D print aluminum, steel, titanium, nickel, and precious metals. It uses LaserCusing, a technology developed by Concept Laser, which is a kind of selective laser melting. 

Conclusion

There’s been much excitement surrounding metal 3D printers. If you didn’t understand the reason behind this, reading this in-depth article must have helped show why the hype is justified. Therefore, you can also join in on the fun and start exploring the 3D printing world filled with lots of possibilities.              

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