How Metal 3D Printing is Staged to Impact the Manufacturing Industry

Metal 3D printing could change much of the world around us if it was fast enough, and cheap enough, for mass production. Now there is a production metal 3D printing system, powered by single-pass jetting that is both fast and cheap enough. At up to 100 X faster than a laser-based system, the first 3D printing solution for mass production is about to hit the market.

The printer works by combining two mass powder spreaders and one print unit into a single-pass system to both spread metal powder and print. Unlike past metal 3D printers, there is no wasted motion with single-pass jetting.

A single pass starts in the powder spreader where a metering system deposits metal powder and a compacting system forms a layer as thin as a human hair. The print bar follows, jetting droplets of a binding agent. Millions are jetted per second, binding metal powder to form high-resolution layers. Anti-centering agents are then deposited, making it possible for supports to fall off after centering, saving hours of post-processing.

Once the layer is dried, the process repeats itself. Single-pass jetting is bi-directional; it combines all the necessary steps for printing into a single pass. This makes it possible to print parts in minutes instead of hours.

Once printed, the brown parts are densified in a microwave-enhanced furnace. It combines heating with microwaves to speed up centering. A closed-loop thermal control system regulates temperatures in real-time, as parts are heated to just below their melting point. Binder is removed and metal particles are fused to form a dense solid.

The production system is cloud-connected. Sophisticated software manages the entire workflow, with profiles that are tuned to every build and material, from the printer to the furnace, delivering dense metal parts.

The result is sheer throughput. In the time it takes to laser-based processes to produce just 12 units, desktop metal single-pass printers can produce over 500 units.

To date, metal 3D printing has been too expensive and too slow to have an impact in the manufacturing industry. At up to 100 X faster than existing technology, this new production system unlocks the cost per part needed for mass production. For the first time, it’s possible to go to market with metal, 3D printing.

Here are some planned uses of metal 3D printing.

  • NASA could use the technology to print rocket engine parts and even an entire engine
  • 3D scan-to-parts will print bone replacement parts in the surgery room, such as custom hips, knees, shoulders or implants accessories
  • Unique medical-related items such as hearing aids, dental stones, shoe insoles, prosthetics and orthopedic implants
  • Patterns to fabricate dental crowns or dental aligners
  • A company in Amsterdam has permission to build a bridge using a carbon steel system. The company will use robots to build and break down supports as it prints the bridge.

The implications of affordable, mass production 3D printing remain to be seen. But it is clear that the manufacturers who choose to ignore the benefits and world-changing nature of this new technology risk losing their competitive edge to those who embrace it. Metal 3D printing continues to evolve at a mind-boggling pace; every day new items are being printed with it. What once began as fabrication of plastic screws and small parts has now evolved to manufacturing full and complete products such as automobiles and buildings. The possibilities of metal 3D printing appear to be never-ending.

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