Metal 3D Printing: Laser Melting and Jet Technology - Benefits and Limitations

Metal 3D printing is moving from laboratory-level applications to factory-level production applications. There is also a certain degree of competition between various technologies for metal 3D printing. In this issue, 3D Science Valley and Guyou have come to appreciate the characteristics and limitations of the powder bed metal melting technology and the investor-friendly binder jetting adhesive metal 3D printing technology.


Picture: Renishaw Cooling Die

Positive competition or dislocation competition

Compared to other direct metal 3D printing technologies, Metal Powder Bed Melting (PBF) is currently the most widely used metal 3D printing technology. Including last year's General Electric investment $ 1.4 billion acquisition of Concept Laser and Arcam, to further strengthen the metal powder bed melting market attention. PBF is considered as a direct metal 3D printing technology, including laser melting and electron beam melting. At present, the laser melting method is more widely used. In this field, many brands are active, including Concept Laser and Arcam acquired by GE, including the original metal 3D printing solution provider German EOS, German SLM Solutions, British Renishaw, domestic Plitter, Beijing Longyuan, Yi Plus three-dimensional, Xin precision and into the PBF field of traditional machine tool manufacturers Germany Express, and Demagensin Seiki.

However, from the investment market, a large number of investment funds poured into another type of metal 3D printing mode due to the high speed, high volume, and low cost factors, which are generally considered as indirect metal 3D printing. The indirect metal 3D printing technology, as the name implies, means that the metal parts obtained through the metal 3D printing process are not the final parts, but need to remove the chemical substances in the metal parts through the heat treatment process of the high temperature furnace to obtain dense Metal parts. Of course, the current indirect metal 3D printing technology includes a variety of different technologies. According to the market research of 3D Science Valley, a large class is the binder jetting technology represented by Exone, Desktop Metal, 3DEO, Markforged, and the other is represented by Xjet. The NanoParticle Jetting technology, the third category is the resin 3D printing technology developed by Prodways and CEA Tech LITEN, and the fourth category may be classified as the metal 3D printing technology that HP will launch.

PBF technology

At the beginning of the laser melting process, a layer of metal powder is placed on the build tray, and then the metal powder is melted by the energy source (laser or electron beam). Due to the very complex product manufacturing that can be achieved, PBF technology not only makes the manufacture of complex products more feasible, but also creates greater overall economic benefits.

For example, when using PBF technology to manufacture cost-effective complex molds, such as conformal cooling molds. How to effectively cool plastic products in the minimum cycle time is a key consideration in the design and manufacturing process of conformal cooling molds, while the additive cooling of the additive manufacturing greatly optimizes the cooling effect, improves the mold life, and improves the final Quality of products. In this regard, Shanghai Yuerui 3D has accumulated rich experience in the design and manufacture of 3D printing conformal cooling molds.

For another example, after more than 10 years of exploration, GE has continuously optimized, tested, and optimized its injector design to reduce the number of injector nozzles from more than 20 units. The comprehensive benefits of the additive manufacturing method not only improve the problem of easy overheating and carbon deposition of the injector, but also increase the service life of the injector by five times and improve the performance of the LEAP engine.

Airbus's bionic structure cabin also subverts the production methods and mechanical properties of the traditional cabin. The serial production of this part named Scalmalloy not only plays an important role in reducing the waste of titanium metal, but also saves the aircraft a lot of fuel consumption through weight reduction.

However, from the laboratory-level application to production, the limitations of PBF have also emerged. For example, the melting temperature of stainless steel can be close to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Imagine that when each individual 3D printing device needs constant energy consumption, the parts can be processed, and the energy consumption as a whole cannot be underestimated. Unless, in the case of several classic cases as described above, the comprehensive benefits created by PBF technology are so obvious.

So, for mass production, such high costs often make sense when machining special parts that are difficult to machine in conventional ways, including those with extremely complex internal passages, as well as jet fuel nozzles and satellite assemblies. And other high-end components.

In addition to energy consumption, PBF technology has also been subject to material restrictions and limitations on processable dimensions, material prices, process control, and the need to add support structures. These factors have become factors that restrict the popularity of PBF technology. Of course, with the improvement of technology and the improvement of quality control capability through software, PBF technology is constantly breaking through its limitations.

Material injection + sintering

The indirect metal 3D printing technology used by Exone, 3DEO, Markforged, and Desktop Metal is based on the combination of material injection and sintering processes to produce fully dense metal parts. The lower cost of equipment also means that the cost of parts is greatly reduced, and parts with lower cost in large quantities are the key elements for production.

Currently, the limitation of 3D printing of metal parts through binder jetting adhesive injection technology is the size of the parts. Early binder injection techniques used bronze penetration to reduce the associated shrinkage and sintering problems, but this changed the material properties of the metal and did not prove to be a viable solution for producing parts. However, newer adhesive injection technology equipment will soon be on the market, hoping to solve the problem of structural size, while gaining the advantages of low-cost parts and high output.

3DEO's intelligent delamination technology is a molding method that combines traditional manufacturing techniques with new additive manufacturing processes. A more accurate geometrical profile is achieved through precise CNC machining during machining.

What will be the future competition between direct metal 3D printing technology and indirect metal 3D printing technology? This is a topic worth thinking and continuing attention. According to 3D Science Valley, there may be a case where PBF laser melting technology will focus on the manufacture of high-value-added parts and create a finer material crystal structure; The batch indirect metal manufacturing technology such as the binder jetting is to meet the market demand that is not covered by the PBF laser melting technology with the advantage of large quantities and low cost. Of course, this is also the most peaceful situation, and experience tells us that competition is often not so good.

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