Metal 3D printing has revolutionised manufacturing, and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is at the forefront of this innovation. This cutting-edge technique uses high-powered lasers to precisely fuse layers of metallic powder, creating parts with exceptional detail and strength.
There are many different materials which can be used to 3D print metal components and prototypes with DMLS. These include various types of steel, aluminium, titanium and nickel-based alloys. To select the right material for your project, it’s important to consider the properties, benefits and drawbacks of each.
In this guide, we will compare and contrast six of the best 3D printing metal materials and explore their real-world applications.
What Is Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)?
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is an additive manufacturing technology used to create durable, intricate and high-quality metal parts from a digital design. Here is how the process works:
- A thin layer of metallic powder is spread across the build platform.
- A high-powered, computer-controlled laser scans the cross-section of the part being manufactured. It then traces the image onto the metal powder, melting and fusing it together.
- The build platform is lowered, and another layer of powder is applied.
- The process repeats, building up the part layer by layer. The finished part can then undergo any required post-processing services.
DMLS has become increasingly popular due to its ability to create parts with exceptional mechanical properties. It also reduces excess stock and waste, and boasts shorter lead times than traditional manufacturing methods.
3D printing with metal has a wide range of applications, including the production of functional prototypes, lightweight structures and custom components.
What Are the Best Materials for 3D Metal Printing?
A variety of metals and alloys can be used in DMLS, each offering distinct 3D metal printing material properties. These include tensile strength, ductility, hardness and resistance to corrosion.
The type of metal can significantly impact the performance of the final part, especially in demanding applications or harsh environments. Let’s look at six of the most common materials and how they may be used.
Stainless Steel CL20ES
Stainless Steel CL20ES, is a tough, functional metal powder known for its excellent mechanical properties. The main advantages of stainless steel include:
- High resistance to corrosion and chemicals
- Excellent tensile strength (570 N/mm2) and hardness (20 HRC)
- High ductility – it can perform well under stress without breaking (>15% elongation at break)
A versatile and cost-effective 3D printing material, Stainless Steel CL20ES has a good balance of strength and cost-effectiveness. It is frequently used for producing unique functional production parts, medical devices, jewellery, and components for food moulds.
Aluminium AlSi10Mg is a strong, lightweight alloy with good thermal properties. Some of its key benefits include:
- Impressive strength-to-weight ratio (tensile strength 350 N/mm2)
- High dynamic load bearing capacity
- High corrosion resistance
- Good thermal and electrical conductivity
- Good surface finish
Aluminium is excellent for custom engineering components that will be subject to heavy loads. It is popular in aerospace and automotive industries – its lightweight properties can reduce fuel consumption and improve overall performance.
When it comes to 3D printing in metal, Titanium Ti64 is another popular choice. It is an alloy made with a combination of titanium, aluminium and vanadium. Features include:
- Lightweight and strong (tensile strength 1290 ± 80 MPa)
- Good ductility – 8 ± 4% elongation at break which can be increased to 14 ± 4% with heat treatment
- Biocompatible (safe for living tissue)
- Corrosion resistant
Titanium Ti64 is commonly used in the medical industry, e.g. for surgical implants, and in aerospace and automotive applications. Due to its resistance to bending, breaking and scratching, it also makes durable and cost-effective jewellery.
Hardening Stainless Steel CL92PHL
CL92PHL is a precipitation-hardening stainless steel. This means that its strength and hardness is significantly increased through heat treatment. It is an extremely functional metal 3D printing material that offers:
- Exceptional tensile strength (up to 1350 ± 50 N/mm2) and hardness (up to 43 – 46 HRC)
- Excellent chemical and corrosion resistance
- High density of 7.9g/cm³
CL92PHL is routinely used for manufacturing a wide range of products and parts. It is ideal for gears, valves, and components requiring high wear resistance.
Maraging Steel MS1
Maraging Steel MS1 is a steel powder that undergoes an ageing process called maraging. This involves hardening the metal using heating and cooling cycles. Its properties include:
- Easily machinable with good dimensional stability
- Good thermal conductivity
- High tensile strength (1200 ± 100 N/mm2) and hardness (33 – 37 HRC)
- Resistance to cracking
Maraging Steel MS1 is often used for tooling applications, such as extrusion, injection moulding and die casting. It is also used to create precision parts for use in extreme conditions, such as in the motorsports and aerospace industries.
Inconel is a superalloy designed for high performance in applications that involve exposure to high heat or pressure. It is composed of a variety of elements including nickel, chromium and iron. Its benefits include:
- Good toughness, hardness and creep resistance
- Retains its high strength over a wide temperature range
- Extremely resistant to oxidation and corrosion
Thanks to its unique properties, Inconel is widely used in extreme environments and corrosive conditions. This includes chemical processing, nuclear power and marine applications. In aerospace, it is a popular material for manufacturing jet engines and rocket systems.
Why Choose LPE for Custom Metal 3D Printing?
At LPE, we offer a fast, accurate and reliable custom DMLS metal 3D printing service for prototyping and low-volume production. Select from a variety of robust, high-quality materials, including stainless steel, titanium, and more.
We provide both standard and high-resolution Direct Metal Laser Sintering services, with fast lead times of 5-10 days. We also provide a wide range of post-processing services for metal 3D printed parts, including heat treatments, assembly, custom painting and finishing.
To learn more about our custom 3D printing process and discuss your requirements, contact LPE today. Alternatively, click here to request a quote for your next project.