Can I 3d Print Metal – Last week I went to the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) and it was amazing. It is a toy store for mechanics and showcases the best in industrial automation. But one of the coolest trends I found in the gallery is all the techniques used in 3D metal printing. The best part is that many of the huge devices on offer actually work!
It would probably be better to name this additive manufacturing because the actual methods can be very different from a 3D printer. Below are examples of three different approaches to this process. I was able to do a great interview with an actual 3D metal printing company using nozzle based delivery, often referred to as cladding. There is an explanatory video showing the laser printing of powder layers. A technique that uses binders as an intermediate step towards the final metal part. lets take alook!
Can I 3d Print Metal
It was great meeting Tim Bell showing off this massive jet engine cone at the BeAM Machines booth. The cone itself was forged from stainless steel as the fastest and most economical way to produce it. An isogrid is printed on the outside of this cone, a structure that is typically shaped for a large portion in a subtraction process.
Metal 3d Printer
BeAM uses a nozzle-based approach that transports metallic powder in an argon stream. When it exits the nozzle tip, a high-powered laser melts the material. Tim mentioned that any material that can be laser welded can be used in the process. These include titanium alloys, steels, nickel alloys, and cobalt alloys. They also work with aluminum.
Adding to an existing fragment is really nice, but of course you can also print whole objects like the ones shown here. Tim mentioned that it would be very expensive to print the full cone of an INCONEL 625 (nickel-chromium alloy) jet engine.
BeAM didn’t have an on-site machine to run, but there was one company that offered laser surfacing, so let’s take a look at this one.
It’s great to see these machines in action on the dance floor. Here is a laser flattening machine from O.R. Proven laser technology to create a helix on some voids. I made a video showing the powder coming out of the nozzle before the laser was fired. When this happens, the rotation of the tool and the linear motion of the nozzle form a vortex.
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The machine was not very big, about the size of a refrigerator. You can see what the finished fishing rod looks like. I think this has been polished to give it the final look.
There was no laser flattening machine on display at the Toshiba booth, but they did bring some sample parts with them. Here you can see how it was built and then reconfigured again to the point of tolerance.
The Renishaw is equipped with four types of lasers with a power of 500 watts and, yes, 2 kilowatts of lasers in this relatively small machine! The video I shot shows a laser ballet dance attaching a layer of metal powder. At the end there is an overhead lever that puts the new layer in place for the next iteration.
The printed complex on display is wonderful. I wouldn’t be able to choose it as laser printed. It’s titanium, and it took about 40 hours to print the two parts that make it up. The parts coming out of this machine need to be sandblasted to clean – probably that’s why it doesn’t look 3D printed – and titanium parts like this need heat treatment.
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Renishaw also showed off the Delta robot that they built as a measurement system to check parts specifications. Seeing the resolution and operation demonstration on these scales illustrates the need to confirm the accuracy of the parts being ejected.
3D Systems has a large direct-to-metal printing machine that is used in aerospace and medical technology. (Get your custom hip joint here!) It didn’t turn on, but I had a great look at the print bed and he explained how it works.
The middle part of the bed is plunged into the machine where each layer is printed and the powder is absorbed from both sides. The laser is mounted above, pointing down. The parts are printed on a raft that hugs the bed. It serves as a stand for the finishing steps after which the part is removed by EDM.
Al Williams just wrote about HP Metal Jet on Friday, and I have to see it in person! This is a brand new line of metal printers and I’m including it here even though it doesn’t have a laser in it. This causes the adhesive to spray onto the powder and a little heat is applied to cure the adhesive as the layers build up. The entire printed part must be cured in the oven before it is finished. It supposedly worked while I was there, although the device is designed so you can’t peek inside, so there’s not much to show for it.
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These metal printers are now confined to the aerospace, medical, and high-end prototyping industry; Think about the auto industry. The important thing to keep in mind is that with the exception of the HP that was just introduced, all of these devices are already in use. It was so fun seeing all the possibilities of metallic printing that IMTS has to offer and realizing that these technologies will only get better!
Stay tuned because we have some really interesting machines from the show that we’ll be sharing in future articles.
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Metal 3D printing can produce the most complex of missile parts using a flame retardant material. While 3D printing isn’t new, how has the technology evolved to handle the most extreme conditions?
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Since the advent of the first 3D printers in the 1980s, their applications have grown steadily. At first, the technology was relatively unknown, according to Live Science, but it has gained popularity in the 21st century. In the early years of 3D printing, it was mainly used for rapid prototyping, and the filaments available were limited to plastic. This flexible material is the simplest 3D printing option as it can be easily melted and shaped.
It is normal for the metal to be unprintable as a liquid at room temperature. However, this is exactly what today’s machines allow. To make small shapes out of metal, 3D printing is a much faster method compared to cutting metal. The latter is a subtraction process, explains Introduction to Plastics Engineering (2018) (Opens in a new tab), which involves carving on virtually metal parts and can be very expensive and time-consuming. Instead, 3D printing is an additive process that uses carefully defined dimensions to build 3D layer by layer.
Some metallic printing methods have more steps than others depending on the printing method. Selective sintering of metals imprints metal by bonding it to plastic. This makes the printing process similar to plastic printing. The difference is that when removed from the device, it is not yet a fully metallic component. The following steps strengthen the printed part and remove any unwanted plastic.
Combustion chambers and nozzles are parts of rocket engines that can resist combustion during 3D printing. (Image credit: Getty)
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Many commissioned engineers prefer to manufacture components on the basis, such as metal rocket parts, metal printing. Since rocket motors have to withstand very high temperatures, Inconel super-copper alloy powder is often chosen. Inconel is a premium class of super alloys known for their resistance to corrosion and oxidation.
Instead of incorporating plastic into metal fibres, technology-based printing is more suitable for laser sintering of metal (opens in a new tab). To produce dense rocket parts, loose metal powder is stacked in layers. Between each applied layer, the laser is directed at the metallic powder. The laser follows the exact shape imposed by the digital coil, as the metal is melted and glued in the process. This is repeated for each layer until the solid metallic form has been dipped into the excess metal powder.
Soon you’ll be 3D-printing metals to create tools, rather than sending the equipment on a rocket. This will reduce the time it takes to get spare parts for repair, as well as the cost of transporting them from Earth to the ISS. NASA (Opens in a new tab) is currently funding research into low-gravity 3D metal printing. Depending on the success of base-based production, the future may include printing the base on the moon.
From the digital file to the metal part, follow the steps of the metallic printing process in the interactive image below.
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