What Is 3D Metal Printing?

Metal Printing

What Is 3D Metal Printing?

Additive manufacturing technology has been around for decades. Up until recently, it was mainly associated with 3D printing polymers and resins that are #stronglikemetal. But over the last few years, current advances in technology have turned the 3D printing spotlight onto another type of material: metal.

3D metal printing is capable of producing exceptionally complex metal parts with the same strength and precision as CNC machined and injection molded parts. In fact, 3D metal printing is now a go-to manufacturing method for high-performance components in some of the most demanding fields, including 3D printing in the oil and gas industry. 

If you’re interested in 3D metal printing services but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Alchemy Industrial is continuously building our 3D metal printing capabilities to help meet our customers’ needs. Here’s an overview of what to expect from 3D metal printing.

3D Metal Printing Materials

All 3D printing, including 3D metal printing, is very much a materials-driven endeavor. New materials are constantly in development, and the performance capabilities are continually increasing. Common 3D metal printing materials include: 

  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Titanium
  • Inconel 625
  • Copper
  • Cobalt chrome
  • H13 Tool Steel
  • A2 and D2 Tool Steel

Different Types of 3D Metal Printing

3D metal printing is a broad term encompassing many different types of technologies. At its most basic function, 3D metal printing is an additive laser technology that uses powdered metals to create metal components. 

Here are the different types of 3D metal printing technologies commonly available today:

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
Metal Printing

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Also known as Powder Bed Metal Laser Fusing (PBMLF), this method binds powder particles together by laser melting them to form the desired shape or structure. DMLS is the most commonly used 3D metal printing technology. It works well with aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, and cobalt chrome.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

SLM is similar to DMLS in that it also uses a laser to melt powdered metal. But it does so in an inert gas environment. Having an inert environment eliminates the risk of contamination from reactive gases in the air, ensuring that metal is formed without air molecules altering the chemical or physical properties. SLM can produce metal parts comparable to metalcasting, and is mainly used with titanium or aluminum.

Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)

EBM is a popular option for applications like space missiles, aircraft components, and other high-precision parts. The EBM process uses an electronic beam several times more powerful than a laser for greater speed, strength and accuracy. It’s used mainly for cobalt and titanium alloys.

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting uses a special liquid to combine the powdered metal before depositing it layer by layer to make a part. Much like FDM in 3D printing plastics, binder jetting is quick and easy to use, as it doesn’t apply heat or pressure that might distort your part. It’s more cost-effective than the other technologies, and can be used for complex and large-scale prototyping for materials such as stainless steel, D2 tool steel, titanium, and Inconel. 

Metal Extrusion Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF)/(FDM)

A fairly new technology in additive manufacturing, metal extrusion is similar to the plastic-based FDM process where filament is heated, passed through a nozzle, and deposited layer by layer. This process is perfect for prototyping because it can print very fine layers and achieve the same precision as plastic models at a cost-effective price. FFF is also capable of processing various materials including stainless steel, H13 tool steel, A2 tool steel, D2 tool steel, Inconel, and copper. 

Testing and Validation for 3D Metal Printed Parts

It’s important to keep in mind that 3D metal printing is an evolving technology. There aren’t decades-old protocols for how to test 3D printed parts like there are for CNC machining or injection molding. High-risk industries like aerospace and medical may require creative solutions like complex modeling and stress analysis to validate part performance and function. 

If you’re interested in 3D metal printing for your next part, you need an additive manufacturing partner always looking ahead at what’s next for this technology. Contact our machine shop in Houston and let’s explore the possibilities of 3D metal printing together!