Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is an advanced additive manufacturing technology used to 3D print metal objects. It can produce unique metal components with complex geometries that offer great mechanical properties. For this reason, DMLS is a popular choice in industries requiring rapid prototyping and low-volume production.
At LPE, we offer both standard and high-resolution DMLS printing with fast turnaround times. In this guide, we will explore how DMLS works and its key advantages and disadvantages. We’ll also discuss some of its main applications in a range of industries from healthcare to motorsport.
Overview of DMLS 3D Printing
Direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS, is a cutting-edge 3D printing method enabling the production of detailed, intricate metal parts. It uses a high-powered laser to selectively melt and fuse powdered metal into the desired shape. This process of creating a solid object through heat and pressure is called sintering.
DMLS 3D printing has gained widespread adoption across various industries due to its ability to reduce excess stock and shorten prototyping and production times. Because there is no need for expensive tooling, it is often a more cost-effective solution than traditional manufacturing methods.
DMLS is often used by businesses seeking to produce small runs of custom parts or components. It’s also popular with people seeking a metal 3D printing service to produce high-quality functional prototypes.
How Does the DMLS Process Work?
The DMLS 3D metal printing process begins with the creation of a digital model using computer-aided design (CAD) software. Here is a step-by-step guide to how it works.
- The 3D model is divided into thin, horizontal layers using specialised slicing software. These layers are used to guide the computer-controlled laser.
- A build platform is prepared with a layer of metallic powder.
- The laser selectively sinters the powdered metal according to the shape of the sliced 3D model.
- Once a layer is completed, the build platform lowers, and a new layer of powder is applied. The process is repeated until the entire object is finished.
- After the final layer is sintered, the build platform is allowed to cool. The completed 3D printed metal part is then carefully removed from the platform.
Depending on the desired finish and application, the part may then require additional post-processing services. This may include tapping and reaming, surface polishing or heat treatment.
Materials Used in DMLS
A wide range of metals and alloys can be used in DMLS, each suited to different applications. Common choices include stainless steel, titanium and aluminium. For other applications, there are less well-known materials used, such as Inconel (an alloy of nickel, chromium and iron).
The type of metal chosen can have a noticeable impact on the properties of the chosen part. This may include its strength, weight and resistance to corrosion. For more information, see our comparison of metal 3D printing materials.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of DMLS?
DMLS boasts several advantages over traditional manufacturing methods. Some of its main benefits include:
- Design freedom: DMLS can easily create bespoke parts with complex geometries that would otherwise be challenging or impossible to produce.
- Excellent mechanical properties: 3D printed metal parts can match or exceed the strength of parts produced using traditional methods.
- Reduced lead times: Parts can be produced quickly, streamlining the product development process and reducing time-to-market.
- Lower material waste: The additive nature of DMLS minimises material waste, as only the required product is used during the build process.
- Inventory management: As there is no need for machine tooling, DMLS can be used for fast, on-demand production, saving on costs and reducing storage needs.
The main drawback of DMLS is that it can be more expensive than other manufacturing methods for high-volume production. However, it is often more cost-effective when it comes to low-volume production and prototyping.
Additionally, some precious metals (such as silver and gold) may not be suitable for 3D printing. Fortunately, the vast majority of industrial metals can be used.
What Is DMLS 3D Printing Used For?
Due to its speed and cost-effectiveness, many industries employ metal 3D printing as a manufacturing method. For example:
- Aerospace: DMLS is used to produce lightweight, high-strength components for aircraft, satellites, and propulsion systems.
- Motorsports: the ability to create intricate, lightweight parts makes DMLS ideal for car parts (e.g. custom engine components and exhaust systems).
- Healthcare: DMLS has been used to create patient-specific implants, prosthetics, custom surgical tools and many other medical breakthroughs.
- Defence: Military and defence sectors benefit from the rapid production of custom parts with advanced material properties, such as body armour.
DMLS and similar technologies can also be used in artistic and creative applications. For example, jewellers may use titanium 3D printing to create intricate and unique designs.
Interested in Custom DMLS 3D Printing? Contact LPE Today
If you are looking for custom printed parts for prototypes or low-volume production, LPE can help.
We provide fast, accurate and high-quality 3D printing using various innovative techniques including direct metal laser sintering. We also offer a range of in-house post-processing services including heat treatment, inserts, assembly and custom surface finishing.
At LPE, we pride ourselves on our state-of-the-art technology, fast lead times and unbeatable customer service. Request a quote today, or contact us to discuss your ideas with our helpful team.