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Metal Additive Manufacturing / 3D Printing 101

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,What you will learn from this article
    1. What is 3D printing / Metal Additive Manufacturing?

    2. What are the different types of additive manufacturing?

    3. What are the different ways that metal can be 3D printed?

    4. What is Laser Powder Bed Fusion? What is Selective Laser Melting? What is Direct Metal Laser Sintering? What is Direct Metal Laser Melting?

    5. How metal additive manufacturing overcomes traditional manufacturing constraints?

    6. What are the main types of metal Additive Manufacturing material?

    7. What are the advantages and limitations of metal 3d printing?

    8. Is AMAZEMET one of the companies of the metal additive manufacturing industry?

Introduction

Metal additive manufacturing (AM), known as metal 3D printing, is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. This advanced technology allows for the creation of complex metal parts with precision and efficiency. As the industry grows, understanding the technology of metal AM becomes essential for professionals and enthusiasts alike. This comprehensive guide aims to provide an in-depth look at metal additive manufacturing landscape, from its basic principles to its applications and future trends.

What is Metal Additive Manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing is a process of creating objects by adding material layer by layer, in contrast to traditional subtractive methods that remove material from a solid block. Therefore, Metal Additive Manufacturing specifically involves the use of hard-to-machine metals to produce parts and components using bottom-up approach. This method allows for greater design flexibility, material efficiency, and the production of complex geometries that would be impossible or extremely difficult with conventional manufacturing techniques.

 

3d-printer-scheme

(source: Adobe Stock)

History of Metal Additive Manufacturing

Understanding metal additive manufacturing starts with its history. The journey of metal AM began in the late 20th century. The first invented method of additive manufacturing was stereolithography. Charles Hull patented it in 1983, the same year Sony and Philips introduced compact disks (CDs) to the general public. The definition of the method was “A technique or process for creating three-dimensional objects, in which a computer-controlled moving laser beam is used to build up the required structure, layer by layer, from a liquid polymer that hardens on contact with laser light”.

Principles of operation of the device are similar to novel powder bed fusion technologies used for metals where energy source – laser beam or electron beam melt thin layers of material distributed on the platform. The manufactured object is surrounded by not fused powder, but in the case of stereolithography, it was a semi-translucent liquid polymer. A second common feature of all additive manufacturing methods is the use of computer-aided design (CAD) software and the .stl file format developed by 3D Systems, whose CEO and founder was Charles Hull. The model file for additive manufacturing, created layer by layer, can also be based on computed tomography or 3D scanning. This allows the production of elements without technical documentation, such as human bones.

Early developments were marked by experimental techniques and limited applications. Over the decades, technological advancements and increased research funding have propelled metal AM into a prominent position within the manufacturing sector. Key pioneers such as Dr. Carl Deckard, who developed selective laser sintering (SLS), and companies like Genenal Electric, Colibrium Additive (previously Concept Laser) and Aconity3D have been instrumental in this evolution.

 

metal-additive-manufacturing

(source: Colibrium Additive)

How Metal Additive Manufacturing Works

Metal additive manufacturing process

The AM process starts with the design phase, where a digital 3D model of the part is created using CAD software. This model is then sliced into thin layers, each representing a cross-section of the final object. During the printing phase, these layers are constructed sequentially.

Types of Metal AM Technologies / Which Metal AM Technology Should I Choose?

There are numerous of metal additive technologies:

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF)

– Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF):

Also known as Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), is an additive manufacturing process described by ISO/ASTM 52900:2015. It uses a laser to fuse powder layers into a digital model, with efficiency measured by linear and volumetric energy densities. After manufacturing, the component is extracted from the surrounding powder, which can be sieved and reused. LPBF offers design freedom and enables unique material microstructures due to precise laser control, allowing for nanocrystalline, monocrystalline, and amorphous structures.

– Selective Laser Sintering (SLS):

What is selective laser sinterine (SLS)? Involves using a laser to sinter powdered metal, fusing the particles together without fully melting them. This process is particularly useful for creating parts with complex geometries and internal structures.

– Electron Beam Melting (EBM):

Know also as electron beam powder bed fusion. Utilizes an electron beam for melting the powder bed.

Directed Energy Deposition (DED)

– Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS):

Deposits metal powder or wire through a nozzle, which is melted by a laser.

– Wire and Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM):

Uses an electric arc to melt metal wire, building parts layer by layer.

 

metal-additive-manufacturing-3d-printing-parts

(fot. Jakub Tomaszewski)

Other innovative metal additive manufacturing technologies

– Binder Jetting:

Metal binder jetting Involves a liquid binding agent to join metal powder particles, followed by sintering.

– Sheet Lamination:

Layers of metal sheets are bonded and cut to shape.

Vat Photopolymerization

This method uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin, which selectively cures through light-activated polymerization. For metal AM, a hybrid approach is used where metal powder is mixed with a photopolymer, and the resin is later burned out, leaving the metal part to be sintered.

Metal Extrusion

Similar to filament-based 3D printing, metal material extrusion uses metal-filled filaments. The printed object is then subjected to a debinding and sintering process to remove the binder and densify the metal.

Material Jetting

In material jetting, droplets containing metallic particles are deposited layer by layer. After deposition, the part undergoes post-processing steps like sintering to achieve the final metal structure.

MoldJet Technology

MoldJet creates a mold using additive manufacturing techniques, then fills it with metal powder and a binding agent. After forming, the part is sintered to achieve the final metal structure.

 

metal-additive-manufacturing-3d-printing

(fot. Jakub Tomaszewski)

Metal Additive Manufacturing Materials

The choice of material in metal additive manufacturing (AM) significantly affects the mechanical properties, performance, and suitability of the final am metal parts. Here are some common metals and alloys used in AM:

Common Metal Materials and Alloys in metal 3d printing industry

Titanium

Titanium, renowned for its high strength-to-weight ratio and corrosion resistance, serves widely in aerospace and medical applications. Alloys like Ti-6Al-4V are favored for their superior mechanical properties and biocompatibility.

  • Properties: High strength, low density, excellent corrosion resistance, biocompatibility.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel offers good mechanical properties and corrosion resistance, making it versatile for various industries, including automotive, aerospace, and medical sectors.

  • Properties: High strength, good ductility, excellent corrosion resistance.

Aluminum

Aluminium alloy is valued for its lightweight properties and good thermal conductivity, ideal for applications requiring weight reduction. Aluminum alloys like AlSi10Mg are common in AM.

  • Properties: Low density, good thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance.

Nickel-Based Superalloys

Nickel-based superalloys possess high-temperature strength and resist thermal fatigue, oxidation, and corrosion, making them essential for aerospace and energy applications.

  • Properties: High-temperature strength, excellent oxidation and corrosion resistance.

Tool Steels

Manufacturers use tool steels for their hardness and wear resistance, making them suitable for creating tools, dies, and molds with complex geometries.

  • Properties: High hardness, wear resistance, toughness.

Copper and Precious Metals

Copper, prized for its electrical and thermal conductivity, and precious metals like gold and platinum, used in specialized electronics, medical, and jewelry applications, hold significant value in various industries.

  • Properties: High electrical and thermal conductivity (copper), biocompatibility, aesthetic appeal (precious metals).

Understanding the role of metal powder materials in additive manufacturing

Metal powders are a cornerstone of additive manufacturing (AM), serving as the raw materials from which complex, high-performance parts are built layer by layer. The quality, characteristics, and performance of these powders directly impact the efficiency, accuracy, and reliability of the AM process. Selection of the appropriate metal powder is critical and depends on the specific application requirements, as well as the desired properties of the final product.

Key properties influencing material choice include tensile strength, thermal conductivity, corrosion resistance, density, and biocompatibility. Advances in material science, such as high-entropy alloys, functionally graded materials, and nanostructured metals, are expanding the range of materials available for AM.

metal-powders-additive-manufacturing

(fot. Jakub Tomaszewski)

Custom Powders for Metal Additive manufacturing

AMAZEMET’s rePOWDER ultrasonic atomization platform is an innovative solution for producing custom metal powders tailored to specific additive manufacturing needs. This platform uses ultrasonic energy to atomize metal into fine, spherical powder particles, ensuring high purity and uniformity.

Advantages of rePOWDER Custom Powders

  • Tailored Composition: Ability to create custom alloys and materials that meet specific application requirements.

  • High Sphericity: Ensures uniform particle shape, which enhances flowability and packing density, leading to better print consistency and quality.

  • High Purity: Ultrasonic atomization reduces contamination, resulting in high-purity powders.

  • Narrow Particle Size: Produces powders with consistent particle size distribution, improving print quality and material properties.

  • Versatility of feedstock material: Suitable for almost any metal and alloy in any feedstock form.

The rePOWDER platform enhances the flexibility and capabilities of metal additive manufacturing by allowing the creation of specialized powders that can optimize performance and meet unique project specifications.

 

periodic-table-metal-powders-amazemet

(source: AMAZEMET)

The Book of Powders by AMAZEMET

AMAZEMET has developed a comprehensive resource, which provides detailed information on various metal powders used in additive manufacturing and manufactured with rePOWDER. It includes properties for a wide range of powders.

Download the “Book of Powders” from AMAZEMET’s official website here.

By understanding these materials and their properties, businesses and researchers can better utilize metal additive manufacturing to create innovative and high-performance parts for various industries.

 

book-of-powders-metal-powders

(source: AMAZEMET)

Metal Additive Manufacturing Applications

Aerospace Industry

  • Engine Components: Metal AM enables the production of complex engine parts with enhanced performance.

  • Structural Parts: Lightweight and strong parts for aircraft structures.

Automotive Industry

  • Prototyping: Rapid development and testing of new designs.

  • Custom Parts: On-demand production of unique components.

Healthcare and Medical Devices

  • Implants: Custom-made implants tailored to patient-specific anatomies.

  • Surgical Tools: Precision instruments for medical procedures.

Energy Sector

  • Turbine Components: High-performance parts for gas and steam turbines.

  • Oil and Gas Equipment: Durable components for harsh environments.

Consumer Products and Other Industries

  • Jewelry: Intricate designs and personalized pieces.

  • Electronics: Heat sinks and other components for electronic devices.


metal-am-part

(source: Colibrium Additive)

Advantages of Metal Additive Manufacturing / Metal 3d printing advantages

Metal additive manufacturing technology offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Design Freedom and Complexity: Ability to create intricate and optimized geometries.

  • Material Efficiency and Waste Reduction: Minimal waste compared to subtractive methods.

  • Customization and Rapid Prototyping: Quick production of custom and prototype parts.

  • Shorter Lead Times and Production Cycles: Faster turnaround from design to finished product.

  • Lightweight Structures and Topological Optimization: Reduced weight without compromising strength.

Challenges and Limitations of Metal Additive Manufacturing

Despite its advantages, metal 3d printing technology faces several challenges:

  • High Costs: Expensive equipment and materials.

  • Technical Limitations: Resolution and surface finish may not match traditional methods.

  • Material Properties: Achieving consistent material properties can be difficult.

  • Post-Processing Requirements: Need for additional finishing processes.

  • Quality Assurance and Certification: Ensuring parts meet stringent industry standards.

 

metal-additive-manufacturing-binder-jetting

(source: Colibrium Additive)

The Role of AMAZEMET in Metal Additive Manufacturing Industry

AMAZEMET plays a crucial role in the metal additive manufacturing (AM) industry by developing and supplying specialized technologies and equipment aimed at enhancing various aspects of the AM process.

Innovations and Technologies

AMAZEMET focuses on developing advanced equipment for powder atomization, which produces high-quality metal powders essential for consistent and reliable metal 3D printing processes. Ultrasonic metal atomizer, rePOWDER, is a state-of-the-art machine that exemplifies company’s commitment to innovation. What is more, the basic version of this device, arcMELTER have a significant impact on expanding the range of materials available for AM, improving their performance characteristics for various applications.

AMAZEMET addresses the post-processing stage of metal additive manufacturing, providing technologies that streamline heat-treatment, stress relief, and surface finishing. Devices like inFURNER and safeETCH are designed to reduce the finishing time, improve the efficiency and quality of the final parts, ensuring they meet industry standards and application requirements. Finally AMAZEMET wants to make the metal additive manufacturing affordable on the stage of research & development or rapid prototyping.

The company collaborates with leading research institutions and industrial partners on research and development projects. These collaborations aim to advance additive manufacturing capabilities through innovation and the development of new technologies

 

repowder-powder-latarka-metal-powder

(fot. Jakub Tomaszewski)

How is the metal AM scene changing? / Future Trends and Developments in Metal Additive Manufacturing

The future of metal AM looks promising, with several trends and innovations on the horizon:

  • Emerging Technologies and Innovations: New methods and improvements in existing technologies.

  • Advances in Automation and AI Integration: Enhanced precision and efficiency through automation.

  • Improvements in Material Diversity and Properties: Development of new alloys and composites.

  • Scaling Up for Mass Production: Efforts to make AM viable for large-scale manufacturing.

  • Sustainability and Environmental Impact: Focus on reducing the ecological footprint of manufacturing processes.

Conclusion

Metal additive manufacturing is set to transform various industries by offering unprecedented design flexibility, material efficiency, and rapid production capabilities. As the technology continues to evolve, its potential applications will expand, driving innovation and growth across multiple sectors. By understanding the principles, benefits, and challenges of metal AM, businesses and individuals can better leverage this technology to meet their specific needs.

Leading metal additive manufacturing companies, like AMAZEMET, contribute to the industry highlight the ongoing development and potential of metal additive manufacturing, making it an important field to watch and engage with in the coming years.

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What's more
From custom powders to 3D printed metal part | Application note
Developing new alloys specifically tailored for additive manufacturing (AM) is crucial to unlocking the full potential of this innovative manufacturing technique. While legacy alloys, developed primarily for traditional manufacturing processes such as casting or forging, can be used in additive manufacturing, they may not fully leverage the unique capabilities and process conditions inherent to AM. Read the article to find out, why the development of new alloys is so important for additive manufacturing!
From custom powders to 3D printed metal part | Application note
Developing new alloys specifically tailored for additive manufacturing (AM) is crucial to unlocking the full potential of this innovative manufacturing technique. While legacy alloys, developed primarily for traditional manufacturing processes such as casting or forging, can be used in additive manufacturing, they may not fully leverage the unique capabilities and process conditions inherent to AM. Read the article to find out, why the development of new alloys is so important for additive manufacturing!

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