Metal printing is the apex of all 3D printer technologies, offering superior strength and durability. However, there are several different types of metal additive manufacturing (AM) processes, and each one has unique characteristics that affect the pricing and lead times for finished parts.
What are the different types of metal prints?
Unlike polymer-bound materials, which use a combination of plastic and filler material to build a final part, metal 3D printing uses metallic powders that are sintered into high-density full-strength components. The process begins with a digital file that is sent to an in-house or outsourced service provider, which then uses slicing software to build the model in layers. It’s important that the file is oriented correctly to the print direction, as it can have a significant impact on strength and cost.
Selective Laser Melting and Direct Metal Laser Sintering are both considered to be “powder bed fusion” technologies, since they both work by flashing a powerful beam of photons or electrons on the individual powder particles to fuse or melt them together and build up the part layer-by-layer. A wide range of metallic alloys can be used, from the more common aluminum and steel to more exotic options such as tantalum, niobium, titanium, and cobalt chrome.
Another powder bed fusion technology that is making waves is binder jetting, which uses two different materials to create the part, rather than just one. It’s a much faster method that is able to produce larger projects than SLM. After the part is printed, it will require some post-processing to remove any unmelted powder and to refine the shape, as well as debinding, sintering and coating.