• June 24, 2019
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Different Types of Metal 3D Printers

Different Types of Metal 3D Printers

Using liquid metal materials, metal 3D printers offer a unique solution for crafting prototypes, jewellery, utensils, spare parts, or other products.

But what makes metal 3D printing such a hot topic? It could be the ability to spec and print spare parts on demand (with the right CAD design). Or perhaps because metal 3D printers make a once highly wasteful task take less time, less energy and less materials.

There is a huge variety of metal 3D printers on the market including industrial and desktop varieties. Of course, many companies choose their printers depending on the outcome they’re after, whether that’s something lightweight or robust.

So what 3D printer types are out there, and what are their benefits?

This image from aniwaa.com offers a great overview of the different metal printing technologies.

overview of different types of metal 3D printers
Image: Metal 3D printer types. Source: aniwaa.com

In this article:

  • Selective laser sintering
  • Selective laser melting
  • Directed energy deposition
  • Metal binder jetting
  • How much do metal 3D printing machines cost?
  • Pros & cons of metal 3D printing

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): Metal 3D Printer Method

Video via YouTube

Selective laser sintering is an additive manufacturing (AM) technique, where a laser sinters powdered material to bind the material together and create a solid structure.

It is similar to other laser sintering processes such as:

  • Selective laser melting (SLM) (more on this below)
  • Laser metal fusion (LMF)
  • Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)

These are all similar within the concept, but differ in technical details.

Materials used in SLS printing

  • Thermoplastics
  • Alloy metals
  • Ceramics

The benefits of this method

This is a great option for 3D-printed products that require higher strength and durability, such as automotive hardware. However, there is a downside: the process is slow and requires a more careful CAD design.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM): Metal 3D Printer Method

SLM 3D metal printers diagram
Image: A diagram of the internal structure of a selective laser melting 3D printer. Source: Popular 3D Printers.

Using the same concept as selective laser sintering with different technical processes, selective laser melting (SLM) is one of the most commonly used 3D metal printers. It is a rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing (AM) technique, which uses a high power-density laser to melt and fuse metallic powders together.

Materials used in SLM printing

  • Copper
  • Aluminium
  • Stainless steel
  • Tool steel
  • Cobalt chrome
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten
  • And more

The benefits of this method

Thanks to its ability to create super lightweight parts, as well as parts ideal for medical use, many industries use this method. Just some of those industries include: aerospace, dental, medical, manufacturing, tooling and more. Other benefits include:

  • Quick production
  • No special tooling required
  • Allows for prototypes to be created in the same material as production components
  • Ideal for short production runs

Directed Energy Deposition (DED): Metal 3D Printer Method

Video via YouTube

Directed energy deposition (DED) is an additive manufacturing process, which laser metal deposition (LMD) technology also uses (more on this below). These machines use a powder-fed system, which is similar to melting or sintering tech. DED also covers a large range of additive manufacturing sub-processes, including:

  • Laser engineered net shaping
  • Directed light fabrication
  • Direct metal deposition
  • 3D laser cladding
DED 3D metal printers diagram
Image: Directed energy deposition (DED) laser printing diagram. Source: Loughborough University.

Materials used in DED printing

  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Titanium
  • Stainless steel
  • Tool steel
  • Copper nickel alloys
  • Steel alloys

It is important to note, sub-techniques of the DED process have their own limitations and compatibilities, including restrictions on types of applicable metals.

The benefits of this method

It is a solid option if you’re creating a product that needs strengthening, repairing, regeneration or direct manufacturing. This process can be used for repairing valves and tools, creating complex parts and printing medical implants.  

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD): Metal 3D Printer Method

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD) is an innovative manufacturing method that is in some ways similar to melting or sintering technology. However a big difference in this process is its use of a constant powder stream that is melted onto the printing platform.

Materials used in LMD printing

  • Iron
  • Cobalt-based, nickel-based alloys
  • Tungsten carbide
  • Other powder-coated metal

The benefits of this method

LMD is ideal for coating and repairing components, joining components or printing full components without creative restriction. Many industries rely on LMD such as aviation, energy technology, petrochemicals, the automotive industry, and medical technology. Benefits include:

  • High build rates
  • Can create custom alloys to suit your needs
  • The ability to 3D print structures on existing, uneven surfaces

Metal Binder Jetting: 3D Metal Printer Method

Video via YouTube

These metal 3D printers are a little different from the rest, as these printers use binding agents instead of laser technology to create printed products. They also require post-processing to strengthen the object, either by curing, infiltration or sintering.

Materials used in metal binder jetting

  • Ceramics
  • Sand
  • Metals

The benefits of this method

This is a great option for anyone looking to produce objects quickly, as one of the big advantages of this method is its speed and its ability to use 2 materials within a single print. Industries that use these printers include automotive, dental, jewellery and more. Other benefits include:

  • The production of metal parts with complex geometries
  • Significantly less expensive than other printer types
  • Produces minimal waste
  • Ability to print several parts in the same powder bed at once

Cold Spray: 3D Metal Printer Method

Cold spray is a 3D printing technique that deposits powder particles in a solid state using a supersonic gas flow. This is one of the few techniques that doesn’t melt the metal.

Materials used in cold spray metal 3D printing

Cold spray can be used to coat a variety of materials including:

  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Ceramics
  • Polymers

The benefits of this method

Many industries, such as the manufacturing industry, take advantage of cold spray printing as it:

  • Is one of the fastest methods of printing metal
  • Can be used to repair worn or damaged metal components
  • Is Ideal for building large components layer by layer

How Much Does a Metal 3D Printing Machine Cost?

Some metal 3D printing machines can set you back up to $1M (between $260,000 and $900,000*), depending on the machine’s size, age, condition, etc. So unless you’re going to be using it every day, a 3D printing service may be the best option for less upfront cost.

Pros & Cons List Of 3D Printing with Metal

Pros Cons
  • Relatively strong end product
  • Usually lightweight
  • Minimal wastage
  • Consistent results
  • More difficult to design
  • Harder to mass produce
  • Lengthy process
  • Restricted product size

In the market for a 3D metal printer for your production needs? Check out metal 3D printers for sale here, or find other 3D printers for sale here.

*Prices are based on Machines4U listing data provided by sellers/advertisers and are an approximation only. Data is correct up to and at time of publishing. Prices may change and need to be verified with individual sellers.

Sources: engineering.com, all3dp.com, 3dprinting.com, aniwaa.com, exone.com, amfg.ai, trumpf.com

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