What is a metal 3D printer? Explanation of the types of molding methods and their advantages and disadvantages

In recent years, metal 3D printers are devices that are being used in a wide range of industries and in the manufacture and repair of products because they can reproduce complex shapes with metal.
However, there are some people who do not understand what kind of types there are and what the advantages and disadvantages are.
Therefore, in this article, we will introduce a wide range of things, from the basic knowledge of "What is a metal 3D printer?"
We will also introduce examples and recommended metal 3D printers, so please refer to them.

What is a metal 3D printer?

A “metal 3D printer” is a device that can create three-dimensional products using metal.
When you think of the word printer, you may think of printing on paper.
However, metal 3D printers are characterized not by printing, but by loading the designed 3D data into the device and molding the metal according to the data.

Metal 3D printer Meltio series handled by our company

It is used in various industries to create prototypes and one-of-a-kind products because it has the ability to create three-dimensional metal products as if it were printed by a printer.
In the past, metal processing used a wide variety of technologies such as forging, casting, and cutting, but metal 3D printers have been attracting attention in recent years because they can express finer shapes with metal.
There is also a device called a "resin 3D printer" that uses resin instead of metal for modeling.

Molding method of metal 3D printer

Metal 3D printers mainly use lasers and electron beams to shape metals, but each method has different characteristics.
Below, we will explain the methods that are often used for modeling with metal 3D printers.

Powder Bed Method (PBF: Powder Bed Fusion )

The powder bed method (PBF: Powder Bed Fusion) is a method of molding by irradiating metal powder with a laser or electron beam.
It is a modeling method used in many metal 3D printers.
Since the metal powder is melted by heat, it takes a certain amount of time to complete, but it is characterized by being able to handle a wide variety of metals and shapes.

The powder bed method also has different characteristics depending on the heat source method, and can be mainly divided into two types: laser and electron beam. Each feature is summarized below.

  • Heat source method: Laser (SLM: Selective Laser Melting)

The laser method is a method in which the metal powder is heated and hardened by irradiating it with a laser beam that collects light.

After one layer has solidified, metal powder is added to the next layer, and the shape is created by repeating the flow of irradiating the laser.

The main feature is that laser power is lower than that of electron beams and it takes longer to complete.

This is the most popular method, and many people probably think of the laser method when they think of a metal 3D printer.

Also, since there is a risk of metal oxidation, it is necessary to always fill the molding area with an inert gas such as Ar (argon) to reduce the oxygen concentration.

  • Heat source method: Electron beam (EBM: Electron Beam melting)

The electron beam method uses a high-power electron beam to melt and solidify metal powder.

Compared to laser methods that use fiber lasers, etc., we use faster and more powerful lasers.

The main feature is the high output, so the completion time is fast.

On the other hand, there are also characteristics such as the fact that the surface of the finished metal tends to be rough, and that the molding area must be kept in a vacuum state.

Deposition method (DED: Direct Energy Deposition)

Direct Energy Deposition (DED) is a fabrication method, also known as directed energy deposition.
Instead of preparing a layer filled with metal powder in advance, a laser or electron beam is irradiated onto the modeled part while releasing the metal powder to melt and layer it.
Although it is not suitable for molding complex shapes, it is also useful for large-scale molded products, molding relatively simple shapes, and repairing metal.

Meltio M450

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a method of extruding and stacking a material that is a mixture of resin and metal that deforms due to heat.
Although it is an application of the conventional resin 3D printer method, processing work is required even after molding.
Specifically, it involves sintering in the furnace and degreasing to remove the thermoplastic resin.
Also, since the modeled object shrinks during these operations, it is necessary to calculate the shrinkage ratio and model it with a metal 3D printer.

Markforged Metal X

Binder jet method

The binder jet method (binder injection method) is a method in which a liquid binding agent called a binder is injected to harden the area where metal powder is spread.

The original method was to spray sand and harden it with a binder, but gradually models that use metal powder have appeared.

It is also characterized by the work of removing the binder after the first molded body is made.

It is mainly good at producing small parts with fine shapes, but there is a disadvantage that the density of metal is slightly low.

Advantages of metal 3D printers

From here, we will explain the advantages of metal 3D printers by dividing them into the following three categories.

  • can produce complex shapes
  • lead to cost savings
  • Easy to use for prototyping

1. Ability to produce complex shapes

Metal 3D printers have the advantage of being able to produce objects with complex shapes that have been difficult with conventional metal processing.

Fine processing can be achieved by repeating the process of melting metal powder little by little with a laser.

With a metal 3D printer, it is possible to manufacture objects that cannot be processed with tools, such as casting and cutting, and shapes that cannot be removed from the mold.

In addition, it is said to be stronger than casting and comparable to forging, which is used to produce strength in metal processing.

Air Craft Bracket - Modeling with Meltio M450

2. Leads to cost reduction

The use of metal 3D printers also has the advantage of reducing costs. This is because the number of parts to be manufactured can be reduced, and the manufacturing cost can be reduced accordingly.

For example, if a metal 3D printer is used for a product that consists of more than a few parts, it may be possible to produce only one part.

In addition, since it is possible to reduce the number of personnel involved in processing, labor costs can also be reduced, which has the advantage of reducing costs.

3. Products can be made lighter

Metal 3D printers also have the advantage of making products lighter.

As mentioned above, not only can the number of parts be reduced, but the design can be redesigned from the initial stage, resulting in weight reduction.

Since it is possible to easily create many prototypes under various conditions, it is also possible to find the optimal design while repeating prototyping and verification.

Disadvantages of metal 3D printers

Next, we will explain the disadvantages of metal 3D printers by dividing them into the following three categories.

  • May be less accurate
  • ​​Mass production is difficult due to size
  • Requires minimal knowledge

1. May be inaccurate

Depending on the product or molding method that requires high precision, additional processing may be required due to lack of precision.

At present, there is a limit of dimensional accuracy of 10μ level, and if higher accuracy is required, additional processing must be performed separately.

Due to this disadvantage, additional processing is required, and it may take time, labor, and manufacturing costs, so caution is required.

2. Difficult to mass produce large products

Metal 3D printers have the disadvantage that it is difficult to mass-produce large-sized products.

If the size exceeds the size that can be manufactured with the equipment, it is necessary to manufacture multiple parts with a metal 3D printer and combine them.

Therefore, if you are aiming for mass production, it may take longer to complete than other manufacturing methods.

3. Minimum knowledge required

Metal 3D printers also have the disadvantage of requiring knowledge about data handling and modeling.

This is because without a minimum of knowledge, such as the differences in features between molding methods and how to use dedicated software, it is impossible to determine the production method and design that suit the purpose.

If you don't have the knowledge, you can avoid making mistakes by consulting with a professional contractor or designer.

Example using a metal 3D printer

Next, we will introduce production examples using metal 3D printers, divided into the medical, automotive, and aerospace industries.

medical industry

Implants are a distinctive example of the use of metal 3D printers in the medical industry.

Metal 3D printers can manufacture metal parts with complex shapes that match the human body, which varies from person to person. Therefore, in addition to teeth for implants, they are also used for implants that fix complex shapes to fix the spine.

Prototypes are also being produced for medical devices such as artificial joints and pacemakers, and they are used in a wide range of industries, such as special surgical instruments used in surgery and parts for wheelchairs.

Knee Implant - Modeling with Meltio M450

automotive industry

In the automotive industry, there are examples of using metal 3D printers to manufacture modern and reproduction parts.

For racing cars, in order to realize parts that are both ultra-lightweight, thin, and ultra-rigid, the use of metal 3D printers to manufacture parts is being promoted.

On the other hand, there are also cases where manufacturers are reproducing and producing parts that faithfully reproduce the shape of old cars that are no longer in production and have no parts in stock.

Engine Manifold - Molding with Meltio Engine Robot

aerospace industry

There are also examples of using metal 3D printers in the aerospace field.

Of particular interest is the repair of jet engines. It is used for repairing and repairing jet engine parts damaged by bird strikes, etc.

In the space field, it is also characteristic of its application to the piping parts of rocket engines.

Due to the fact that there are many high-precision and complicated shapes, and mass production is not required, it is attracting attention as a field where the characteristics of metal 3D printers can be utilized.

Aircraft Engine Mount - sculpted by Meltio M450

Introduction of metal 3D printer “Meltio”

So far, we have summarized the basic knowledge, advantages and disadvantages of metal 3D printers.

From here, I would like to touch a little bit on the all-in-one metal 3D printer "Meltio" that is suitable for metal molding, repair, and function addition.

Features of Meltio

Meltio is a metal 3D printer that realizes the following four advantages by using the cheapest welding wire among metal materials as a material.

  • high reliability
  • high safety
  • high convenience
  • affordable

What you can do with Meltio

  • Manufacture of near net shape parts
  • Manufacture of small to large size parts
  • Hybrid (AM+CNC) manufacturing
  • Repair such as padding
  • Improved performance through the use of multiple materials
  • Upgrade to existing robot and CNC
  • Adding new functions to existing parts

As mentioned above, it can be used for various purposes as an easy-to-use metal 3D printer.

Even things that were expensive and unavailable in the past are now easier to manufacture, and can be manufactured using a variety of materials.

Suitable for a wide range of industries from heavy industry to medical and construction.

For more information, please visit our product page.

Summary: If you are considering using it, please feel free to contact us.

In this article, we introduced a wide range of things, from the basic knowledge of "What is a metal 3D printer?"

Metal 3D printers are a technology that is attracting attention in a wide range of applications and industries, from metal manufacturing to repair.

In order not to fail in manufacturing, it is important to prepare machines, materials, and designs that meet the purpose.

We, 3D Printing Corporation, sell Meltio metal 3D printers in the Japanese market.

We also offer modeling services using the same printer.

It is also possible to actually see the actual machine during our factory tour, so please feel free to contact us if you are interested.

More information about Meltio: Meltio450 , Meltio Engine

Meltio is sold at the online store operated by 3D Printing Corporation.

Click here for the online store (Meltio)

Via email: Please send an inquiry to info@3dpc.co.jp with a message such as "Inquiry about Meltio".

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