What Is 3D Metal Printing? Everything You Need to Know

what is 3d metal printing 3d printer

3D printing is a technology that developed rapidly over the past 40 years. Unlike today, early 3D printers mostly removed material instead of adding it. Additive printers became more and more common throughout the decades, and they're now the primary type.

By 2010, 3D printing was in the popular imagination. By the end of the decade, small, affordable models became available, and all kinds of businesses, entrepreneurs, and artists started using them.

3D metal printing was one of the earliest forms of 3D printing, although most people today think of 3D printers as using plastic.

In those early years, additive 3D metal printing proved tricky. It requires higher temperatures, lasers, and chemicals in order to print using it. Because of this complexity, metal 3D printers aren't suitable for home use in most cases.

Still, some individuals own them, and they're a great tool for a wealth of industrial applications. 

Metal printing opens the door to new possibilities for all. Often, it helps industries save money, too, so purchasing one is a good business investment.

If you're not yet sure whether metal 3D printing is for you, that's okay! Here's all the information you need to know about this innovative technology.

How Does 3D Metal Printing Work?

We're all familiar with the typical plastic printing process—you put in plastic pellets, the machine melts them, and prints whatever pattern you set up on the computer. Easy! 

3D metal printing isn't so simple. As with plastic printing, the first step is to create or download a design and export it to the printer. After that, though, the process is different. 

To start the build process, the machine's build chamber is filled with an inert gas to prevent oxidation (such as rusting). The media, 3D printer metal powder, is spread over a platform within the build chamber. There are two kinds of 3D metal printing processes, one called Selective Laser Melting (SLM), and the other termed Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).

While they both use a metal powder, SLM uses powder made of a single metal, and DMLS powder is made from mixed metals, known as alloys. Because the processes use different kinds of metal, they work at different temperatures, and SLM melts the powder while DMLS heats it enough to fuse (known as sintering).

In both processes, the next steps are the same.

A laser scans the design and divides it into many layers. Each layer is typically only about a tenth of a millimeter thick. Then, the laser follows that pattern to fuse the metal powder in layers on the platform.

The printer builds the desired item's basic structure from bottom to top. After that's built, the printer coats the item with an outer layer of powder, from top to bottom. This coating process repeats until the item is fully built and to scale.

Uses for 3D Metal Printing Machines

Now that you know how 3D metal printing works, you might be wondering what they're good for.

Some industries that use 3D metal printers right now are the dental and medical industries, jewelry, aeronautics, and the automotive industry, among others. Even this brief list is diverse enough to give you a hint that you can make a lot of things using 3D metal printing! Here are some examples.

The aeronautic and automotive industries 3D print with metal on a larger scale, making things like car parts and space fabric used by NASA.

Medical supply manufacturers keep things sanitary by producing items such as surgical tools and even things like hip replacements with metal 3D printing technology, requiring no contact whatsoever.

In a different direction, 3D printing using metal is a great tool for creative people and businesses as well. While home 3D metal printers aren't common or very affordable yet, some manufacturers with the funds 3D print artwork using metal.

3D printing allows jewelers to make small art pieces like rings, earrings, and other ornaments from metal without worrying about the potential of injury. In a completely different application, you might be surprised to learn that dentists make many crowns using 3D printers.

While a 3D metal printer is a serious investment, owning one opens up great possibilities. 

If switching from another assembly process, the efficiency of a 3D printer means that manufacturers save money not only on production, but also on labor.

The machines can't totally replace human labor. You'll always need workers to run the printers and make sure everything is functioning. However, using 3D printers means you can produce more at a time than people can by hand.

Get Your Business on the Road to Financial Security

3D metal printing can cut costs and labor, helping struggling businesses save money and get back on top. Now that you know all about 3D metal printing, you can decide whether it's the right solution for your business' budgeting.

Lost business means that many companies right now struggle to pay rent and utilities. Some loans have been distributed, but so far they haven't been enough. Besides, debt isn't always the answer.

A lack of solutions has many businesspeople scratching their heads and scrambling to keep the ship afloat amid the crisis.

The good news is that our site has plenty of solutions to help you run your business economically and efficiently. Just take a look around, read some articles, and you'll start getting your business back in shape in no time. We have a wide variety of articles on 3D printing, engineering, manufacturing, production, and prototype development on our business blog.

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