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Metal 3D Printing

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Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing, also known as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and direct metal laser melting (DMLM) is an additive layer technology. During Metal 3D printint, a metal 3D printer utilizes a laser beam to melt 20-60 micron layers of metal powder on top of each other. Powdered metal is spread across the entire build platform and selectively melted to previous layers. This additive process allows metal parts to be grown out of a bed of powdered metal. The process is like other polymer-based 3D printers that use powder bed fusion.

Parts created are fully dense metal with excellent mechanical properties. Other metal 3D printing processes exist which use a binder, although they produce parts which are not fully dense metal. The process can produce complex geometries that traditional CNC machining processes are not capable of. Examples of metal 3D parts include molds and inserts, duct work and rapid tooling.

Fathom currently has six metal 3D printers from EOS at our facility as well as a varety of material to choose from. Metal 3D printing materials include stainless steel, cobalt chrome, maraging steel, aluminum, nickel alloy and titanium. These materials are all discussed in detail below.

Metal 3D Printing Materials & Specifications

Metal 3D printing is capable of producing durable parts from metal powders. These parts can be complex, intricate and elaborate all while maintaining their strength.

Material Alloy Designation Layers Hardness Advantages Applications
Stainless Steel (PH1) 15-5 PH, DIN 1.4540 and UNS S15500 20 or 40 Micron Layers 30-35 HRC Built, Post Hardened to 40 HRC High Hardness & Strength Prototype / Production Parts
Stainless Steel (GP1) 17-4, European 1.4542, German X5CrNiCuNb16-4 20 or 40 Micron Layers 230 ± 20 HV1 Built, Ground & Polished to 250-400 HV1 High Toughness & Ductility Engineering Applications
Cobalt Chrome (MP1) ISO 5832-4 and ASTM F75 20, 40 or 50 Micron Layers 35-45 HRC Built High Temperature Resistance Turbines & Engine Parts
Maraging Steel (MS1) 18% Ni Maraging 300, European 1.2709, German X3NiCoMoTi 18-9-5 20 or 40 Micron Layers 33-37 HRC Built, Post Hardened to 50-56 HRC Easily Machinable & Excellent Polishability Injection Molding Tooling, Conformal Cooling
Aluminium AlSi10Mg Typical Casting Alloy 30 Micron Layers Approx 119 ± 5 HBW Low Weight, Good Thermal Properties Automotive, Racing
NickelAlloy IN718 UNS N07718, AMS 5662, AMS 5664, W.Nr 2.4668, DIN NiCr19Fe19NbMo3 40 Micron Layers 30 HRC Built, Post Hardened 47 HRC Heat & Corrosion Resistant Turbines, Rockets, Aerospace
Stainless Steel (316L) ASTM F138 20 Micron Layers 85 HRB Corrosion & Pitting Resitant Surgical Tools, Food & Chemical Plants
Titanium Ti-64 * ASTM F2924 30 or 60 Micron Layers 320 ± 15 HV5 Light Weight, High Strength, Corrosion resistance Aerospace, Motorsport Racing
Titanium Ti-64 ELI * ASTM F136 Properties 30 or 60 Micron Layers 320 ± 15 HV5 Corrosion Resistance, Biocompatibility Medical, Biomedical, Implants


Aluminium AlSi10Mg

AlSi10Mg is a typical casting alloy with good casting properties and is used for cast parts with thin walls and complex geometry. The alloying elements silicon and magnesium lead to high strength and hardness. The alloy also features good dynamic properties and is therefore used for parts subject to high loads. Parts in Aluminium AlSi10Mg are ideal for applications which require a combination of good thermal properties and low weight.

Aluminium AISi10Mg Properties

  • High strength
  • Hardness
  • Good dynamic properties

Aluminium AlSi10Mg Applications

  • Direct manufacture of functional prototypes
  • Small production runs
  • Products or spare parts
  • Automotive
  • Engineering
  • Motor racing
  • Aerospace
  • Prototype parts for aluminium die casting

CobaltChrome MP1

CobaltChrome MP1 produces parts in a cobalt-chrome-molybdenum-based superalloy. This class of superalloy is characterized by having excellent mechanical properties (strength, hard-ness etc.), corrosion resistance and temperature resistance. Such alloys are commonly used in biomedical applications such as dental and medical implants and also for high-temperature engineering applications such as in aero engines.

CobaltChrome MP1 Properties

  • High strength, temperature and corrosion resistance
  • Mechanical properties improve with increased temperature up to 500-600 °C
  • Chemistry conforms to the composition UNS R31538 of high carbon CoCrMo alloy
  • Nickel-free (< 0.1 % nickel content).
  • Fulfils the mechanical and chemical specifications of ISO 5832-4 and ASTM F75 for cast CoCrMo implant alloys

CobaltChrome MP1 Applications

  • High-temperature engineering applications, e.g. turbines, medical implants

MaragingSteel MS1

MaragingSteel MS1 is a martensite-hardenable steel. Its chemical composition corresponds to US classification 18% Ni Maraging 300, European 1.2709 and German X3NiCoMoTi 18-9-5. This kind of steel is characterized by having excellent strength combined with high toughness. The parts are easily machinable after the building process and can be easily post-hardened to more than 50 HRC. They also have excellent polishability. MargingSteel applications include tooling and high performance parts.

MaragingSteel MS1 Properties

  • Easily machinable
  • Age hardenable up to approx. 54 HRC
  • Good thermal conductivity

MaragingSteel MS1 Applications

  • Series injection moulding, also for high volume production
  • Other tooling applications, e.g. aluminium die casting
  • High performance parts

StainlessSteel GP1

StainlessSteel GP1 is a stainless steel. Its chemical composition corresponds to US classification 17-4, European 1.4542 and German X5CrNiCuNb16-4. This kind of steel is characterized by having good mechanical properties, especially excellent ductility in laser processed state and is widely used in a variety of engineering applications. This material is ideal for many part-building applications such as functional metal prototypes, small series products, individualised products or spare parts.

StainlessSteel GP1 Properties

  • Good mechanical properties
  • Excellent ductility

StainlessSteel GP1 Applications

  • Engineering applications including functional prototypes
  • Small series products
  • Individualised products or spare parts
  • Parts requiring particularly high toughness and ductility

StainlessSteel PH1

StainlessSteel PH1 is a stainless steel. The chemical composition conforms to the com-positions of 15-5 PH, DIN 1.4540 and UNS S15500. This kind of steel is characterized by having excellent mechanical properties, especially in the precipitation hardened state. This type of steel is widely used in a variety of medical, aerospace and other engineering applications requiring high hardness and strength. This material is ideal for many part-building applications such as functional metal prototypes, small series products, individualized products or spare parts

StainlessSteel PH1 Properties

  • Very high strength
  • Easily hardenable up to approx. 45 HRC

StainlessSteel PH1 Applications

  • Engineering applications including functional prototypes
  • Small series products
  • Individualised products or spare parts
  • Parts requiring particularly high strength and hardness

Titanium Ti64

Titanium Ti64 is a Ti6Al4V alloy. This well-known light alloy is characterized by having ex-cellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance combined with low specific weight and biocompatibility. The ELI version (extra-low interstitials) has particularly high purity. Titanium is good for aerospace and engineering applications, as well as biomedical implants.

Titanium Ti64 Properties

  • Light weight with high specific strength (strength per density)
  • Corrosion resistance
  • Biocompatibility
  • Laser-sintered parts fulfil requirements of ASTM F1472 (for Ti6Al4V) and ASTM F136 (for Ti6Al4V ELI) regarding maximum impurities
  • Very good bioadhesion

Titanium Ti64 Applications

  • Aerospace and engineering applications
  • Biomedical implants

Selecting the best material for each metal 3d printing method is important. At Fathom, our team can help you select the most appropriate material for your project. Below we discuss four metal 3D printing processes of metal 3D printing.

The Metal 3D Printing Process

While there are several categories of metal 3D printing, the basic fabrication methods all involve producing a part by adding material one layer at a time. First, the build chamber is filled with argon or another inert gas. The gas is used to minimize the oxidization of the metal material. The powder material is placed over the build platform, a laser scans a cross-section of the component and fuses the granules together in order to create a layer. The build platform moves down one layer and then another layer of metal powder is added. The laser again scans and creates an additional layer. The process repeats itself until the part is made. Support structures made of the same material are used to attach the part to the build platform. Excess powder is removed from the part and the part is heat-treated. The part is detached from the build platform using cutting, wire-EDM, or machining.

Metal 3D printing methods include:

  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM): A laser melts layers of powdered metal material in successive layers.
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM): The same process as SLM, but an electron beam replaces the laser.
  • Laser Deposition Welding (LMD): A metal powder is layered on a base material and fused with no pores or cracks.
  • Metal Powder Application (MPA): Powder particles are accelerated in a carrier gas. They are then applied to a previously printed layer or substrate using a powder jet. Both the powder and surface are deformed to create an adhesive surface.

Once a part has been built using one of the above metal 3D printing processes, the part moves on to post-processing. Post-processing may include a number of techniques. These steps include removing any loose powder, removing support structures and thermal annealing. The surface quality may also be improved by media blasting, metal plating, micro-machining or polishing. Holes or threads may be created using CNC-machining.

Distinguishing between each metal 3D printing process can be confusing as some of the processes are very similar. Oftentimes, a term is trademarked by the inventor and thus outsiders developing similar technologies must coin their own term. Some of the most common questions surrounding metal 3D printing terminology include:

What is the difference between DMLS and SLM? Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM) both use a laser to scan and fuse or melt metal powder particles in order to bond them together and create a part in layers. Both processes use metal in granular form and both methods are a type of powder bed fusion 3D printing. The primary difference between the two is in the particle bonding process. While DMLS uses metal alloy material with variable melting points that bond at high heat, SLM uses metal powders with a single melting temperature. Both SLM and DMLS are suitable for industrial use and engineering projects.

What is the Difference Between DMLM and DMLS? Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Direct Metal Laser Melting are both additive manufacturing processes that use lasers to melt metal powdered material so that the particles fuse together. In the DMLS process, the metal is only partially melted. In the DMLM process, the material is fully melted into a liquid, which then solidifies when cooled. DMLS is a term that may be used to describe either process.

Whether your project utilizes DMLS technology or another metal 3d printing process, you can expect a high-quality part that is comparable to a metal part made using traditional manufacturing methods. The ability to produce strong, complex and durable parts are just a few of the advantages of metal 3D printing. There are other benefits that have driven the demand for metal 3D printing.

What are the Advantages of Metal 3D Printing?

When planning your metal 3D printing project, it is important to keep these benefits in mind. Metal 3D printed objects have excellent physical properties. They can be made by a wide range of materials that are difficult to process using traditional manufacturing methods, such as metal super alloys. A metal 3D printed product performs well, is lighter in weight and requires fewer assembly components. Using the metal 3D printing method allows companies to produce bespoke parts with complex geometries unachievable using traditional manufacturing methods. A growing number of industries have been using the advantages of metal 3D printing to innovate and use the technology for a number of applications.

Metal 3D Printing Applications

Metal 3D printing is a popular manufacturing method because it can reduce the part’s weight while adding durability and strength. These features have proven advantageous for aerospace, healthcare, research and development, automotive and more. DMLS may be used for numerous applications, including:

  • Functional prototypes
  • Direct digital manufacturing
  • Molds and inserts
  • Ductwork
  • Rapid tooling
  • Spare parts
  • Rigid housing
  • Heatsinks and heat exchangers

Metal 3D Printing History

Metal 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s. The technology continues to advance with many large corporations aiding in development and commercialization. The following timeline is a summary of the history of metal 3D printing:

  • 1980: The first laser sintering machine was developed by Dr. Carl Deckard of the University of Texas. While this machine was used for plastic, it presented an opportunity for metal 3D printing.
  • 1991: Dr. Ely Sachs of MIT created Binder Jetting.
  • 1995: ExOne licenses the binder jetting of metal materials.
  • 1995: The Fraunhofer Institute of Germany patents the melting of metal by lasers. Universities and EOS, a German company, also aid in the development of 3D metal printing.
  • 2012: Large corporations GE, HP and DM begin to invest in metal 3D printing.
  • 2017 – present: Metal 3D printing continues to develop into a large and lucrative industry.

Other Metal 3D Printing Resources & References

Read through these other metal 3D printing resources, references and articles:

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