What are the benefits, limitations and costs of 3D metal printing?

  • By - CADS Additive Ondesignair Space
  • 17 April, 2021
What are the benefits, limitations and costs of 3D metal printing?

3D printing high-quality metal parts is one of the hottest topics in the industry right now.

Many companies keep investing in this technology to produce unique and complex industrial applications. And if you've ever wondered what the whole hype is about, the cost, its upsides, and downsides, then you are in the right place.

Because in this article, you will get to know answers to some of your most frequently asked questions on metal 3D printing, such as:

  1. What are the 4 benefits of 3D Metal Printing over Subtractive and Formative Manufacturing? 
  2. What are the limitations of 3D Metal printing? 
  3. What is the level of investment for an industrial 3D metal printing machine for high-quality parts? 

Let’s get started. 

What Are the Best Things About 3D Printing of High-Quality Metal Parts and How Does It Compare to Other Manufacturing Techniques? 

Using metal 3d printing technique - in particular Selective Laser Melting and Direct Laser Melting Sintering - to print high-quality metal parts comes with many advantages. Below are the best things about 3D metal printing you should know.

 

1: Shortens Lead Times

When metal printing, you always want the process to be as fast as possible. However, most manufacturing techniques take long. For instance, it will take about 15 to 60 days to get the first part of your project done when using subtractive manufacturing. Formative manufacturing comes with lead times that are counted in months.  

The manufacturing process is usually faster whenever you use metal 3D printing. It can take as little as 2-3 days to get the same result.

This is crucial because 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique, so it's faster to move from the design stage to the production of the final part.

 

2: Reduces Material Waste

If you’ve tried other forms of manufacturing techniques to produce metals, then one major challenge you would have encountered is a high level of material waste.

However, with metal 3D printing, there is a high reduction of material waste, which saves you money.

Metal 3D printing reduces the amount of material you waste because the raw materials are added and shaped layer by layer instead of cutting and subtracting out of a solid form.

This ensures that the materials needed are placed exactly where they are useful, so it reduces the materials wasted.

 

3: Produces Complex Designs

With metal 3D printing, you will be able to produce unique and complex designs with no additional effort and cost.

3d metal printing is ideal for complex parts

However, producing complex structures with traditional techniques requires more effort and time.

 

For instance, including extra holes require machining after molding, and you would have to use multiple different parts inside a welded form to produce parts. But with metal 3D printing, only one part is needed, and you can produce objects in one piece, which makes printing complex structures a lot easier.

 

4: It Offers Flexibility

With 3D printing, you can print your project just to test it and make modifications easily using 3D modeling software.

3d metal printed part for the medical industry

This flexibility makes printing not just easier but more efficient, so you are able to print better designs while saving time and cost.

 

The Four Common Problems Associated with 3D Printing of Precision high-quality metal parts.

People often ask if there are any challenges associated with metal 3D printing.

And the truth is: Although 3D printing comes with many perks, there are a few challenges that come with it.

In this section, you will get to know the common challenges you will most likely encounter with metal 3D printing and how to troubleshoot these issues. Let’s get right into it.

1 - Porosity

Sometimes 3D printed metal parts are often bugged with high porosity, which usually happens during the printing process because tiny holes are often created inside the parts during this time

Tiny holes lead to low density, and the number of holes created can directly influence how low the density of your parts would be. And when this happens, the metal parts get weakened and damage easily.

So, to prevent this, ensure you source your raw materials from a trusted source because often, the quality of raw materials affects the resistance of parts to porosity.

Another preventive measure to take is to ensure to tune your printer’s parameters during every printing process. 

 

2 - Surface Roughness

Another challenge you will most likely encounter while metal 3D printing is that some of your parts often have rough surfaces, and you have to do a certain level of polishing to achieve a smooth finish.

However, you can prevent this by printing thinner layers because the roughness of a metal part surface is directly proportional to its layer thickness.

 

3 - Cracking and Warping

This is one of the commonest issues many people encounter when 3D printing.

Cracking and warping happen when a metal part gets cooled. If a metal part cools down, contraction occurs, and some parts get deformed.

To avoid this, pre-heat the print bed and increase the adhesion of your metal parts to your print bed, so it receives the support it needs.

You can also try thermal processing to fix cracked parts.

 

4 - High Cost per part

This is another challenge faced with metal 3D printing. The cost of each part is quite expensive as it ranges between $1000 and $5000.

Also, there isn’t a reduced cost for large quantities as each individual part cost remains high regardless. To learn more about the 5 most important cost factors of 3D Metal Parts, see the article "What are the 5 cost factors of 3D metal printing? Focus on SLM and DMLS". 

 

How Much Does the Machine Use for 3D printing of Precision High-Quality Metal Part Cost?

The most common methodology used in printing high-quality metal parts is Selective Laser Melting (SLM). The machines used for this methodology are called Powder Bed Fusion Machines, and they cost between $500k to $2M. 

 

Conclusion

This article discussed the perks of metal 3D printing and further discussed the major challenges often encountered with metal 3D printing and provided tips on how to troubleshoot these issues. More so, this article stated the price-range of metal power bed fusion machines and discussed the general opinion of manufacturers and designers on metal 3D printing. Hopefully, this article answers all the common questions you have about 3D printing and also helped you understand metal 3D printing better. If you want to learn more about the cost of 3D printing, we recommend reading the 5 cost factors of 3D metal parts”.