3D Metal Printing Has Arrived

From the first crude plastic toys which came out of the 1980s to the magnificently complex medical prosthetics now available, 3D printing has been expanding exponentially. It really was just a matter of time before 3D metal printing became not only possible but financially viable.

3D metal printing is an incredibly complex and fascinating subject, and while it’s not feasible to get into the nuts and bolts in a single article, we would like to share a little information with you.

3D Metal Printing Facts

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) are the two most common processes used today. SLM creates parts which are made from a single metal, as it acts on metal powders with the same melting point, whereas DMLS can produce parts from metal alloys as it fuses different metal powders at a molecular level.

So how does it work?

3D metal printing is performed in a specialised chamber which is filled with an inert gas such as argon. Thereafter, a fine layer of metal powder is spread over the platform. A laser scans and melts sections of this base and gradually builds up a solid part as the base moved down systematically allowing for recoating and scanning of the next layer. 

To get an idea of the dimensional accuracy of these incredible machines (cited at ± 0.1mm) this layer height varies between 20 to 50 microns in thickness which equates to between 4 to 10 red blood cells side by side. 

3D metal printers work with finely powdered metals, of which less than 5 percent is wasted. Once the part has been completed the unused powder is collected and sieved and ready for the next build.

While this may be a highly simplistic overview of the process of 3D printing, it does show how the door has been opened for a fascinating future in engineering. Watch this space.