3D printing and metal products were referenced in other published articles here at Slefty blog, but the rate of growth and new sector developments requires close market surveillance and a constant update of our market insights. Create metal products and parts with 3D printing is not a thing of the future. There are already a lot of market players with different technologies and different prices that can apply to 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”
Additive manufacturing market for metal parts is mostly dominated by the Powder bed fusion and direct energy deposition technologies. Both have more than 70% of the market share, where the powder bed fusion has more than 50%. Powder based fusion (PBF) is a technology that uses a laser to sinter and melt a base metal. The direct energy deposition (DED) technology melts also the metal with a laser but if it is deposited in powder or wire form. The PBF technology can have more precision and more quality than DED but lower printing speeds.
The build size is still limited to sizes around 500x280x360mm for the bigger and more expensive machines but the use of a variety of metals is possible. 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 the 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. 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. The topological design, where material is where it is needed and where it will 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. Prices of the printing machines and raw materials for them are still high (approx. between 250k€ and 500k€ to buy a new metal printing machine) but in complex pieces, the costs reduction can be more than 90% using additive manufacturing. Engineers mindset must change to 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 the same concept can be applied in large parts and bigger structures.
Thomas Duda, 3D Metal Printing Technology