Machine Made: How Metal Printing Is Shaking Things Up
Creating metal parts and products with 3D printing not something from the future. In fact, it's a non-stop upward trend now.
The fast growth and development rate of this new sector demands close market surveillance and insight update.
There are already many market players with several technologies and prices to apply in different sectors.
“Parts must be less solid because the price is only related to the quantity of material and complexity does not take part in the equation”.
Here comes in the additive manufacturing market for metal parts, mostly dominated by the powder based fusion and direct energy deposition (DED) technologies. Both have more than 70% market share, where the powder based fusion (PBF) has more than 50%.
PBF is a technology that uses a laser to sinter and melt a base metal, while DED melts also the metal with a laser but it's deposited in powder or wire form. The PBF technology can have better quality and precision than DED but lower printing speeds.
The build size is still limited to around 500x280x360mm for bigger and more expensive machines but a variety of metals can be used.
From aluminum alloys, titanium or stainless steel to precious metals, the flexibility is huge compared to the typical manufacturing processes. The metal printed parts have higher strength and hardness than original materials, but the fatigue strength is a handicap yet.
During the additive manufacturing process, the surface roughness of each layer is high and before the thermal process, the pieces have between 0% and 0,5% of internal porosity, which could explain the low fatigue strength compared to the base material.
The market for steel parts and structures is always looking for more optimization and efficiency while cutting the operating costs.
Weight is a major drawback in some industries like aerospace, automotive and aviation but with additive manufacturing, metal parts can be highly customized and optimized because the pieces are built upwards and not by material removing, like the traditional methods.
This new approach to manufacturing forces the engineering mind to end with the predefined forms like rectangles, cubes or cylinders and think in new forms with hollow design, lattice structures, and tubes. Remember - “less solid”. The topological design, (where material is, where it's needed and where it'll perform), is the future engineer’s approach to these problems with additive manufacturing.
3D printing technology applied to metal pieces and parts is a major contribution to some industries, related to optimization and efficiency. But prices of the printing machines and raw materials for them are still high - between 250k€ and 500k€ - but in complex pieces, the costs reduction can be more than 90% using additive manufacturing.
The Engineers' mindset must adapt to the benefits and flexibility of the 3D printing. Lightweight is now the keyword and it’s only a matter of time before the same technology and concept can be applied in large parts and bigger structures. Are you ready?
Thomas Duda, 3D Metal Printing Technology