3D printing is currently in the midst of an evolution, demonstrated by the development of rapid systems capable of unique materials that may be able to ultimately reduce the cost per part of additive manufacturing (AM) technology. Among the categories of AM being affected is metal 3D printing, which has seen a number of companies—including Markforged, Desktop Metal and Admatec—unveil new processes that may reduce the typically costly technology.
There are hundreds of methods to make metal parts. The list of technologies and techniques can be overwhelming. To make matters worse, each approach technology comes with a variety of strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of this article is to give a quick overview of the predominant metal part fabrication techniques and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
Metal 3D printing has come a long way in the past few years, but there is still plenty of room for the technology to develop. Additive manufacturing has grown to over a $5 billion industry and is showing no signs of slowing down. Over the next few years, we are likely to see advances in several key areas of metal additive manufacturing given the widespread R&D investment across the industry. These advances will be critical for wider spread adoption of metal additive manufacturing and for sustaining its current growth trajectory.
"3DEO are, like Desktop Metal and Xact aiming to make metal 3D printing more affordable. Like Desktop Metal and Markforged, they are using MIM powders and a secondary sintering step to achieve that. However, the big difference comes in their process, 3DEO describes six steps to achieving a finished metal part that is more affordable and meets the high industry benchmark MPIF Standard 35 while still achieving tight tolerances."
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, affords numerous benefits to design engineers. The primary advantages include the ability to consolidate components, reduce part weight, and design parts with complex internal geometries. Creating parts with additive manufacturing in mind is usually referred to as Design For Additive Manufacturing (DFAM). Consolidating components is especially advantageous because it reduces the number of parts that need to be designed and manufactured into the final assembly. Beyond just lowering the overall cost of production, parts consolidation also has a dramatic impact on the speed of production and also functional performance.
Prototyping for Metal Injection Moulding: 3DEO’s AM solution matches the density and chemistry of MIM parts
The nature of Metal Injection Moulding technology means that creating functional prototypes that match the density and chemistry of the final parts can be both expensive and time consuming, whilst machined or AM alternatives simply do not allow for a realistic assessment of how a component will function. In the following article 3DEO’s Matt Sand presents a new service that promises to deliver prototype and low to medium volume runs of components that match the performance of MIM parts.
Industry 4.0. The fourth industrial revolution. Experts seem clear that a significant step forward is happening in factories around the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) has made its way onto the plant floor and now entire factories are becoming "smart" with an explosion of sensors and internet connected equipment. Mountains of data are beginning to flow seamlessly from machine-to-machine and from machine-to-man. As the cyber universe grows within factories, a logical addition is the ability to pull an object from the virtual world of data and create its physical counterpart on demand. Manufacturing new parts by changing a file rather than creating a costly and time-intensive mold is what makes 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, so interesting in production. Additive manufacturing has firmly planted its flag in Industry 4.0 and continues its rapid pace of development as emerging additive manufacturing technologies are finding applications across the ever-changing industrial manufacturing landscape.
Excitement swirls around additive manufacturing as top industrial companies continue to pour significant dollars into R&D and other additive manufacturing initiatives. The investments in additive manufacturing are aimed at understanding the full capabilities of the technology and integrating additive manufacturing into their own product development and production processes.
In traditional manufacturing, economies of scale and scope are potent competitive advantages. Scale is achieved by minimizing fixed costs (such as tooling) and by manufacturing an extremely high volume of products. At 100 pieces, a tool that costs $100,000 contributes $1,000 cost to each piece. At 1,000,000 pieces, the tool cost is a tiny fraction of the final part cost. Clearly, with tooling and high fixed costs, the competitive advantage is awarded to the manufacturer with scale operations.
Rachel Park: I was really interested to get deeper insight into the 3DEO offering. There is some cross-over with the Desktop Metal narrative here, specifically it is a new, low-cost metal 3D printing process, it uses MIM materials and it is innovative and disruptive in nature. There is plenty to differentiate it though, because the extremely clever team behind it is offering this process as a service, demonstrating good results and does not appear to be over-promising anything. The process itself is intriguing — it is, at first glance, a powder bed binding process. However, the nature of the binder delivery is absolutely key and there is a hybrid approach included in the process in that a subtractive tool precisely cuts away at the defined geometry every few layers. Moreover, the team is open about the limitations of MIM materials, particularly in terms of shrinkage and densities. But, like, I said they are demonstrating some impressive results.