Additive manufacturing methods such as direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) allow for the rapid production of functional metal components and prototypes. Due to its ability to create intricate, customised parts of industrial-grade strength, metal 3D printing has revolutionised the world of manufacturing. In recent years, it has seen widespread growth as a production process in a wide range of contexts.
But what is metal 3D printing used for? In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of 3D metal printing as a manufacturing technique. We’ll delve into the various industries utilising this technology and provide several real-world examples.
Introduction to Metal 3D Printing
There are many different 3D metal printing technologies available. One of the most widespread methods of 3D printing metal is direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS. This uses a technique called powder bed fusion, which involves heating and fusing powdered metal using a high-powered laser. The laser, which is controlled by a computer, selectively sinters each layer in turn until a solid object is formed.
DMLS was developed in the 1990s as an early method of 3D printing using metal. The process has evolved substantially over the years, with numerous advances in technology and material options. This has allowed for increasingly complex and sophisticated parts to be produced.
Metal 3D Printing in Manufacturing
Metal 3D printing is rapidly becoming one of the most common methods of creating high-quality, custom metal designs. It offers many benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques, such as casting, machining, punching and extrusion. Some of its key uses include:
- Rapid prototyping: engineers and designers can create accurate, functional 3D prototypes quickly and efficiently. This facilitates faster design iterations and accelerates product development.
- Low-volume production: 3D printing offers fast, cost-effective solutions for producing metal parts in small quantities. This is particularly advantageous for industries that require unique, specialised components.
- Bespoke parts and components: The design freedom allows for the creation of complex, bespoke, custom 3D printed metal parts tailored to specific applications. This is a key advantage over other manufacturing methods, which may require the costly and time-consuming production of custom tools or moulds.
Being faster than traditional metal fabrication methods, metal 3D printing allows businesses to significantly reduce their lead times. It also helps aid in inventory management, such as reducing excess stock and storage requirements.
Metal 3D Printing Applications
An enormous range of companies worldwide benefit from 3D metal printing applications. Below, we explore some of the key industries which utilise DMLS and similar technologies, and how it benefits them.
The Aerospace Industry
Metal 3D printing has found widespread use in the aerospace industry, where weight reduction and part complexity are critical considerations. DMLS enables the production of lightweight, high-strength components for aircraft and spacecraft, such as engine parts, fuel nozzles, and heat exchangers.
One real-world example is GE Aviation’s metal fuel nozzle for the LEAP jet engine. Thanks to metal 3D printing, the company was able to consolidate the nozzle tip from 20 parts down to one single component.
The Automotive Industry
Similarly, metal 3D printing is a key part of the automotive industry. It allows manufacturers to produce intricate, lightweight parts and prototypes, such as engine components, heat exchangers, and custom exhaust systems.
For example, Bugatti used 3D printing to create an eight-piston titanium brake calliper for its Chiron hypercar. This showcases the technology’s incredible potential in high-performance vehicles.
The Medical Industry
In the medical and dental fields, DMLS and similar techniques allow for the creation of patient-specific implants and prosthetics with a never-before-possible degree of precision. Examples include titanium 3D printing for customised orthopaedic implants designed to improve patient outcomes. You can read more about medical breakthroughs in metal 3D printing here.
The Defence Industry
The defence sector also benefits from the rapid production of custom metal parts with advanced material properties and reduced weight. Applications include lightweight structures for aircraft and vehicles, as well as customised components for military equipment and weaponry.
The Power Industry
Metal 3D printing is used in the energy and power generation industries to produce components with intricate internal structures. This can improve the efficiency and performance of renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines and solar power plants.
For example, in 2018, Siemens became the first company to produce 3D-printed metal blades for an industrial steam turbine.
Looking For a 3D Printed Custom Parts Service? Contact LPE
If you are looking to 3D print metal prototypes or parts for any application, LPE can help. We specialise in fast, high-quality custom 3D printing using state-of-the-art technologies including direct metal laser sintering.
We provide a range of material options for DMLS, including steel, aluminium and titanium. We also offer in-house post-processing services including heat treatment, assembly and surface finishing. Metal parts manufactured are repeatable and reliable and we offer a complete contract manufacturing service and qualification route that we have developed in conjunction with the standards ASTM/ISO F3301 and FF3302.
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.