Direct metal printing is a form of 3D printing. It is also known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering. This method is employed by almost all 3D printing companies. Being a fast-growing and innovative technology, direct metal printing has been the core reason for the predominance of a lot of 3D printing companies. This blog from Global 3D comprises the details on direct metal printing, the materials required for it, the advantages and also the limitations of the technology.
The technology of direct metal printing was initiated in the year 1994. Sometimes the direct metal printing method is confused with Selective Laser Melting. These two processes are similar but there are some slight differences. Direct metal printing methods do not melt the powder, but instead, it heats the metal powder to a point where it will fuse together on a molecular level. This is known as sintering the powder. On the other hand, selective laser melting utilizes a laser to completely melt the metal powder. This is what creates the differences in the materials that are available to be used in these two technologies. Speaking of the materials used, here are the kinds of materials used for direct metal printing.
Direct Metal Printing Materials
It is true that 3D printing manufacturers are constantly evolving to create the type of materials used in 3D printing. But there are a few primary materials that are used for direct metal printing. These include aluminum and titanium. The other materials include cobalt-chrome, stainless steel, and Inconel. Direct metal printing can also be used with precious metals for creating 3D printed jewelry. The process includes metals like gold, platinum, and silver for creating stunning pieces of jewelry with complicated geometrical shapes that other manufacturing processes cannot do.
Direct metal printing is used in multiple industries that include aerospace and automotive sectors, jewelry designs, creating artifacts, heavy steel industries and more. The reason it is so popular is that it offers fantastic topology optimization by creating stronger metal parts that will weigh less. This technology is also used in the medical sector, especially in dental surgeries, creating customized dental implants along with accurate geometries.
The advantages of Direct Metal Printing
- This technology is perfect for geometrically complicated parts where extreme customization is essential. It works as a perfect alternative where other manufacturing methods simply cannot create parts with certain geometries.
- There are other significant benefits that include topology optimization like reducing weight and increasing the strength of rockets, cars, and planes.
The limitations of Direct Metal Printing
- Direct metal printing technology offers a small build size in comparison to other technologies. There are technologies like fused deposition modeling (FDM) offer build sizes that are over 100 cubic centimeters. This is a size that direct method printing cannot compete with.
- Another limitation of direct method printing is the overall process is very much expensive. The 3D metal printers utilizing this technology will cost more than $250,000. In addition to that, the metal powders are very much expensive. The stainless steel 316L powders cost $350-450/kg.
In the near future, hybrid additive/subtractive machines will have their niche. It is not really uncommon in getting the metal printing and CNC machines in a single production line.