Metal additive manufacturing, also known as metal 3D printing, is a technology that produces three-dimensional parts layer by layer from a powdered metal material, unlike subtractive manufacturing processes which create parts by removing material. The layer build-up of parts offers the ability to manufacture metal parts with complex internal and external geometries in order to save time, avoid wasted material and reduce expenses in the manufacturing process. Metal additive manufacturing can produce complex metal parts from a wide range of materials without the constraints of traditional casting and CNC based manufacturing processes. Components that would not have been possible with CNC machining can now be made using a wide range of metal powders. Other traditional manufacturing methods like investment casting require tooling that is only cost-effective when large quantities are being manufactured. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to economically produce customized components in smaller quantities.
Metal additive manufacturing has the potential to change the production of components and assemblies. Engineering materials such as stainless steels, aluminum, cobalt chrome, inconel and titanium can be used to create fully dense parts with outstanding properties. Metal additive manufacturing has been used as a prototyping tool for years, but the focus of additive manufacturing is now shifting to serial production. Metal additive manufacturing is now being used for the production of final metal components for a variety of applications in all industries including medical, aerospace, automotive, and industrial. Metal additive manufacturing is used to produce end use parts for an increasing number of Fortune 500 Companies adopting it as an integral part of their production processes.
A key advantage of metal additive manufacturing is parts consolidation. Because the metal 3D printing process can include intricate and complex designs, multiple parts can be combined into one design, reducing assembly costs. Designers can optimize parts to reduce weight and retain structural strength by including thin-walled components and fine meshes. 3D printing reduces the number of steps from design to finished product, cutting time-to-market.
Metal powder bed fusion machines use a high-powered fiber laser to fuse fine metal powders together using a layer melting process. The process requires a 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) STL file, which is sliced into layers. For each slice, ultra-fine layers of metal powder are deposited across the build plate. Required areas of the powder are then precisely melted by the laser, which is controlled by the .STL file. As each 30-60 micron layer cools, it binds to the preceding layer, slowly creating the part from the bottom up. A recoater blade lays new powder for the next slice and the process is repeated until the build is complete. Additive manufacturing systems from EOS can build in a range of metals, including titanium, cobalt chromium, stainless steels, nickel alloy, inconel 718 and aluminum.
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