If you plan to introduce 3D metal printing in your company, choosing the right printer is a major decision. If your metal parts need great mechanical properties and a good surface finish, you’re looking at Selective Laser Melting (SLM) or Direct Melting Laser Sintering (DMLS) Alas, these are also the most expensive 3D printers – you can expect to pay between EUR 500,000 ($600,000 USD) and EUR 2 million (2,400,000 USD) for one of these machines. Making sure you choose the right 3D metal printer to realize your additive manufacturing vision will ensure your investment really works for you.
Despite their price tag, selective laser melting (SLM) and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) are some of the most widely used 3D printing technologies in the broader field of additive manufacturing. And ever more businesses are starting to use this kind of printer - the 3D metal printer market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 27.8% until 2027.
SLM and DMLS printers can be used for both prototyping and serial production. They are currently being used in industries as diverse as healthcare, automotive and defence.
To help you select the right DMLS or SLM printer, the following five questions will help you narrow down your choice.
5 questions to ask when searching for an SLM printer
The following questions will help you to select the most appropriate SLM or DMLS printer for your business.
- What is the size of the parts you plan to print?
The size of the machine’s printing chamber limits the size of the parts you can print within. The larger the chamber, the larger the parts you can potentially produce.
Room with a view: different chamber sizes of 3d metal printers
At the smaller end of the scale are printers of around 125 mm³. At the opposite end are machines at around 500 mm³ (the biggest machine on the market is the SLM 600, which has a 600 mm x 600 mm x 600 mm printing chamber).
Size matters: for 3d metal printers, it does matter if parts are small or big
For small medical devices, you might find that a 125 mm x 125 mm x 125 mm printer will be sufficient. On the other hand, if you plan to print parts for turbines, you’d likely need at least 400 mm x 400 mm x 400 mm - if not more. Of course, the larger the printer, the more you will pay.
- How many lasers will you require?
In SLM and DMLS printers, lasers are used to melt metal powder to ‘build’ your items. You can order machines with just one laser, but it is possible to order twin, quad or even up to twelve laser printers.
The advantage of adding lasers is that they instantly speed up the melting of the power, and therefore the printing process. A dual laser printer, for instance, will melt (almost) twice as much metal and will therefore print twice as fast as a single laser printer. Adding more lasers increases the job speed exponentially.
The said, lasers don’t come cheap. A single laser costs around EUR 80,000, so the bill for adding additional lasers will quickly add up.
- Do you plan to do serial production or prototyping?
If you only expect to use the printer for building prototypes, it makes more sense to choose a smaller printer – you’ll only be printing one part at a time. On the other hand, if you expect to be producing parts in batches, going for a bigger machine will save you time and money in production costs. A bigger machine can accommodate more parts in one print job. That will save you time, powder, energy, and money.
- How much printing do you expect to do?
3D metal printing is time- and energy-intensive, with bigger printers using more energy. So, you will only want to run the machine when doing so is worthwhile.
If you need a flexible machine that you can use for a variety of different printing jobs and metal prototype parts, it might make more sense to use a smaller machine. You can turn it on to just do each small job when needed. If you had a big machine, you’d probably want to wait until you had numerous parts with different designs to build in one go – and that would reduce your flexibility.
On the other hand, if you know you’ll be using the printer regularly for multiple printing jobs, it will be more economical to choose a bigger machine that can print more parts in one run.
- How productive do you need to be?
Different brands of 3D printers melt layers of metal at different rates. One printer might take a second longer than another to melt a single layer of metal powder. That might not seem like much of a difference at first, but if you are trying to melt 3,000 layers of powder, that one-second difference before starting the next layer will quickly add up.
Of course, faster printers cost more money. So, it becomes a decision of how productive you need the machine to be. Is it business critical for a prototype to be printed in 12 hours, or can you wait until the next day?
Choosing an SLM printer
By taking the five questions above into consideration when you are searching for an SLM or DMLS printer, you can help narrow down the right machine for your needs; the answers will also help you as you start to have your first conversations with manufacturers of these machines.
Once you have chosen a printer, the next task is to find 3D metal printing software which meets your needs. As one of the top 3 providers of editing software for SLM printers, we have a ton of experience not just about our software, but we can also work with you to find the optional combination of 3D printer plus 3D software for your additive manufacturing strategy.
Did you enjoy our tips and advice? Please keep coming back here. We're going to share a lot more practical tips and advice to help you on your journey additive manufacturing. And whether you're curious or seriously interested in selecting your 3D metal printing software to go with your 3D printer. Knock yourself out and sign up for free trial for the most intuitive, powerful 3D Printing software for SLM printers.