by Matt Sand, President, 3DEO, Inc.
In a feld that’s advancing as rapidly as metal 3D print- ing, it can be easy to fall behind. Some of the most recent developments across the industry have been game-changing, and it’s important for manufacturers
to know what’s out there. For that reason, and without
further ado, here’s the comprehensive list of the 10 most
important things you don’t know about metal 3D printing.
1. 3D PRINTING WILL AUGMENT, NOT SUPPLANT,
Additive adherents have sometimes overstated their
case by predicting that 3D printing will soon replace all
other forms of manufacturing. That simply isn’t true. It’s
much more likely that metal 3D printing will exist alongside
traditional methods and occupy a sizable but secondary
niche in the global manufacturing sector.
2. PRODUCTION AT SCALE IS STILL RARE
The advantages of 3D printing are most evident when
small volumes of highly complex parts are needed, as we
discussed here. Large (or even medium-sized) production runs can become slow and costly with most of the
technology available today. 3DEO is unique in the market
in our ability to efficiently transition from prototype to
3. ALL METAL 3D PRINTERS AREN’T
A variety of different technologies, from software to
printer design to fusing processes, combine to define the
capabilities of a single 3D printing “system.” It’s important
for manufacturers to recognize that these capabilities vary
widely, and cost per part can vary with them. This makes
it essential to first clearly define the application, then go
about selecting the right 3D metal printer.
4. METAL AM IS STILL PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE
FOR MANY APPLICATIONS
On a related note, metal AM is a wildly costly option
for many manufacturing situations. Material costs remain
sky-high for the majority of 3D printing technologies, and
in conjunction with the capital intensive process of bringing an industrial machine online, they ensure that 3D
printed metal components
won’t come cheap. Companies like 3DEO are
pushing to drive these
costs down by the day,
and economic efficien-cies have already been
achieved in many cases.
While the range of feasibility is expanding quickly, manufacturers should still not expect to replace many of
their processes with AM in the near future.
5. THE PRINTING COST IS ONLY HALF THE TOTAL
As with any manufacturing process, part qualification
on 3D printed parts can be expensive. Significant testing
is important to ensure that the pieces meet design and
physical thresholds. If the prototype doesn’t work out
initially (or doesn’t translate to production) a re-do can
be a nightmare for your bottom line.
6. POST PROCESSING REQUIREMENTS
Metal 3D printing can bring several benefits, but surface finish isn’t one of them. The smoothness of a given
part varies depending on the producer, but it’s fair to
expect metal AM parts to come in with a roughness average of several times that of CNC machining or injection
molding. Depending on the requirements of the part’s
job, the level of post processing attention it needs can
be very extensive or nonexistent. It’s safe to say, however, that you can expect these challenges to be more
significant with AM than with other methods.
7. A PRINTER IS JUST THE BEGINNING
A metal 3D printer, many of which come with a price
tag of over a million dollars, won’t cut it alone. The post
processing needs of metal printed parts require all sorts
of additional machinery, including furnaces, face mills, and
die grinders. The story doesn’t end there, however. The
metal AM process also requires equipment that can help
support the printer in terms of material use and cleanup.
8. LABOR IS REQUIRED—HIGHLY SKILLED LABOR,
TO BE SPECIFIC
A 3D printing system, metal or otherwise, requires an
expert operator to run efficiently. This kind of talent doesn’t
grow on trees. In a new, relatively small field, sourcing
a qualified user of metal AM systems can be extremely
difficult. The alternative, of course, is to make the enormous investment of time and money into someone with
a background that may or may not match up. Either way,
this is not a place to skimp on costs.
9. ACCESS TO PRODUCTION METAL 3D
PRINTING IS POSSIBLE WITHOUT MAKING
These challenges shouldn’t deter manufacturers
who have seen a challenge in their business that
this emerging technology might solve. Third party
providers of metal printing services can provide
affordable access to additively manufactured
production components for end-use applications.
They have the equipment and expertise in-house so that
manufacturers can focus on their own core competencies
while confidently outsourcing any of their AM needs.
10 Things You Don’t Know About Modern Metal 3D Printing
There’s a lot to like about the additive manufacturing of metal parts, but there’s a lot you need
to know before getting started.
10. THIS TECHNOLOGY ISN’T DONE EVOLVING
While it’s not strictly accurate to describe metal AM as
“new” anymore, the innovation occurring in this discipline
isn’t showing signs of slowing down. While laser sintering
and binder jetting remain the primary processes used in
3D metal printing today, new methods are being tested
and implemented that are changing the calculus around
what’s economically viable in metal AM.