Apr 29, 2016 | By Alec

Metal 3D printing is currently being used for the development of some of the most exciting 3D printed parts around, from airplane engine components to space-bound satellites. But the reality is that metal 3D printing encompasses a very diverse group of technologies that are piled together, even though they use different techniques for forging different sources of metal (powders, wires or even sheets) together. Each, in turn, is suitable for different applications.

Summarizing metal 3D printing as a whole is therefore almost impossible, but a team of researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee have done so anyway. In a remarkable and comprehensive study titled ‘The metallurgy and processing science of metal additive manufacturing’, five ORNL researchers provide a comprehensive overview of everything you could possibly want to know about metal 3D printing. From the history of the technology, to a full analysis of the strengths, limitations and potential applications of all four main metal 3D printing techniques (powder bed fusion, direct energy deposition, binder jetting and sheet lamination), and their subcategories. How does the technology compare to traditional manufacturing options? And what are the limitations of metal 3D printing? All of your questions are answered.

The researchers are also happy to discuss the future of metal 3D printing, and that certainly looks promising. For starters, new materials and new 3D printing techniques are being developed. There are still, they write, a tremendous amount of material opportunities that can be explored. “Pure alloys and ceramic materials both have significant development work to be done in understanding the consolidation/sintering process to produce fully dense parts,” they write. Recent developments have been especially focused on alloys used in high impact industries, such as titanium and nickel-based alloys. These could, they say, accommodate large thermal gradients during 3D printing and could therefore facilitate various new applications.

Meanwhile, various new 3D printing methods are also on the horizon: chemical vapor deposition (CVD, currently used for coating), physical vapors deposition (PVD, which uses a vacuum), liquid metal material jetting and friction stir 3D printing. These relatively novel techniques have the ability to, they say, change the landscape of metal 3D printing in the near future. The same can be said for Cold Spray technologies, which deposit particles in a high-speed gas stream.

The future of metal 3D printing is thus looking bright. “Improvements on the high end will enable the production of higher quality AM parts, while the expiration of patents and falling costs of heat sources will help to lower the cost of the technology. New materials will be processed, offering a wider range of available alloys,” they say. As a result, the market for this technology is expected to grow by 18% a year until 2025 (mainly pushed by aerospace, biomedical and automotive sectors), when a market size of $8.4 billion will be realized. What’s more, the expiration of several patents could facilitate more open-source initiatives, which could reduce the cost of metal 3D printing significantly. In fact, researchers from Michigan Tech University are already working on some interesting open-source opportunities.

But to realize that future, a lot of work still needs to done. Most importantly, the technology’s ability to facilitate geometric complexity needs to be expanded to make 3D printing an indispensable technology. “By enabling new geometries that reduce the number of components in a part or mesh structures that promote body acceptance of implants (for medical implants), metal AM has the potential to make economic sense by displacing parts with inferior performance,” they write. This also means reducing failure rates and improving machine reliability.

Several other aspects of the technology will also need to be improved upon, including the realization of faster deposition rates, quality control, cost reduction and the expansion of capabilities and materials. Faster deposition rates are, of course, directly related to costs and feasibility, while quality control is one region in which 3D printing is still far behind other production technologies. “For this reason, advances in process technology may not get incorporated as fast. […] Standards and protocols, measurement and monitoring techniques for data, fully characterized material properties, modelling systems that couple design and manufacturing, and closed loop control systems [are all needed],” they write.

All of those developments are also closely related to cost reduction. “Development of new ways of processing metal into parts could potentially dramatically increase deposition rates and lower costs of metal 3D printing,” they add. Despite the technology’s undisputed potential, a lot still needs to be achieved before metal 3D printing can unleash a true manufacturing revolution. For more information on the current state of metal 3D printing, check out the full article here.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Anonymous wrote at 4/29/2016 6:44:51 PM:

Besides of EOS, there is Realizer, who was one of the first in SLM business.

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