Metal material jetting and binder jetting 3D printers
Material jetting 3D printers are equipped with various inkjet printheads (somewhat similar to 2D printing) that jet material onto a surface. The material then hardens, and another layer of “metal ink” is jetted on top.
Binder jetting is a similar process, but it is a binding agent that is jetted atop a layer of powder.
Production System P-1
|200 × 100 × 40 mm
The Production System by Desktop Metal was designed for mass production. It is advertised by Desktop Metal as being a fast, cost-effective metal additive manufacturing solution, with a cost per part up to 20 times lower than with other metal 3D printing systems.
This Desktop Metal 3D printer is equipped with over 16,000 nozzles that are mounted onto a “print bar” that recoats the build plate with powder at the same time, hence explaining the technology’s name: Single Pass Jetting™.
|203 × 180 × 69 mm
Digital Metal, a Höganäs Group company, creates incredibly detailed metal parts with their DM P2500 system. It is able to print 3D metal parts with an accuracy as high as 0.001mm (1µ), and with a medical-grade surface quality of around 0.006mm (6µ).
Another interesting feat to point out is that almost 100% of leftover powder can be recycled for future prints. This metal AM machine is able to churn out serial production series efficiently and reliably; one of the company’s first DM P2500 printers has been running 24/7 since 2013, according to Digital Metal.
The Digital Metal DM P2500 is a certified metal 3D printer (CE and UL) that is compatible with certified metal materials (ISO 22068).
|300 × 300 × 300 mm
Australian manufacturer SPEE3D has developed an impressively fast metal 3D printing technology called Supersonic Deposition. The technology is based on metal cold spray, using compressed air to “jet” metal powder through a nozzle at high speeds.
This enables the LightSPEE3D to 3D print at up to 100 grams per minute and with a range of metals including copper.
|501 × 140 × 200 mm
XJet developed an impressive, proprietary jetting technology they call NanoParticle Jetting™. This inkjet method disperses millions of tiny droplets that contain nanoparticles of solid metal. The liquid material comes in cartridges that are easy to insert into the printer.
After being printed, the metal parts must go through support removal and sintering processes to attain their final form.
DED: Directed Energy Deposition metal additive manufacturing systems
Directed Energy Deposition (DED) is comparable to filament extrusion. The metal material is pushed through a special nozzle, like with FFF/FDM, but a powerful laser beam solidifies the material at its deposition point.
|1000 × 1000 × 1000 mm
|Directed Energy Deposition
Formalloy produces a range of metal DED 3D printers with up to 5 axes of motion. They can be used to produce metal parts but also to repair or clad existing parts.
Different laser wavelengths are available, as well as different build volumes: 200 x 200 x 200 mm, 500 x 500 x 500 mm, and 1000 x 1000 x 1000 mm. Metal 3D printers from Formalloy can be customized depending on company requirements.
Alternative metal 3D printers and special mentions
Hybrid metal manufacturing systems
Some manufacturers are specialized in hybrid metal manufacturing systems. They combine both subtractive and additive manufacturing methods, often with robotic arms that are able to move on more than three axes.
Some of the biggest actors on the hybrid metal AM system market are:
- Gefertec (Germany)
- DMG Mori (Germany)
- Matsuura (Japan)
- Sodick (United States)
XXL-sized metal 3D printers for industrial production
For those that require very large metal parts, there are several huge, industrial machines that offer gigantic build volumes for industrial production. To name a few:
- Sciaky EBAM 300
- Titomic TKF1000
- ADC Aeroswift
- ADIRA AddCreator
- Fabrisonic SonicLayer 4000
- ExOne X1 160PRO
- InssTek MX-600
- BeAM Modulo 400
- Optomec Lens CS 600
- Additive Industries MetalFAB1
Metal 3D printers from China
There has recently been a lot of growth in the metal 3D printer market in Asia, and more specifically in China. Some Chinese brands have been upping their game in that respect, providing industrial-grade metal 3D printing options:
- ZRapid Tech
- Shining 3D
However, we feel that they are not yet playing in the same league as the 3D printers from our main selection, mostly due to a lack of distribution networks, after-sales service and training, and other factors which tend to matter when considering them together as a whole.
R&D metal 3D printers for labs
In certain cases, metal 3D printers are used for research purposes to develop and test new materials. There are a few machines that are specifically designed for this:
- Open Additive PANDA-6”
- Freemelt ONE
- Sharebot metalONE
Pros and cons of metal 3D additive manufacturing
Benefits of 3D printing metal parts
- On-demand production: Metal additive manufacturing offers more flexibility and control over the production line.
- Complex designs made possible: With 3D printing technology, it is possible to create highly detailed and intricate parts that would have to be broken down into several pieces with traditional methods.
- Waste reduction: Compared to CNC milling, for example, metal AM produces much less waste as it only consumes the material needed for a certain part. This is more true for extrusion-based methods than it is for powder-based methods, where it isn’t always possible to re-use 100% of unsintered or unbinded material.
- Lighter parts: Whereas metal parts are usually completely solid infill-wise with other methods, 3D printing allows parts to be more or less hollow without undermining their strength and resistance.
- Cost-effectiveness: All the above benefits of metal 3D printing can inherently reduce costs per part, although high metal 3D printer prices do represent a significant entry barrier. Reaching a positive return on investment can take a while depending on your throughput.
Limits of metal 3D printing
- Metal 3D printing prices: Metal AM systems are still quite expensive, as are metal powders and metal filaments. There are hidden costs, too (e.g. energy consumption, learning curve, etc.).
- Environmental constraints and safety precautions: Most metal 3D printers have a large footprint and require specific operating environments with controlled temperatures, hygrometry, and more.
- Post-processing: In many cases it is necessary for parts to be post-processed, whether it’s debinding and sintering or finishing touches for surface quality.
- Physical properties: It can be difficult to achieve the same physical properties that traditionally manufactured metal parts have. There are a number of factors (e.g. anisotropy) to take into account during the design process and file preparation before even trying to 3D print a certain part.
Metal 3D printing materials
Which metals can you 3D print?
A growing number of metals and metal alloys can be 3D printed. These are the main ones:
- Nickel, Inconel
- Cobalt, Cobalt-Chrome
- Steels (tooling, maraging, stainless)
- Precious metals (gold, silver, platinum)
Which metal 3D printing material formats are available?
Metal 3D printing material can be found in various formats, catering to different metal 3D printing methods. The most common are:
It is also possible to find metal 3D printing resin as well as metal sheets for lamination-based 3D printers.
Metal 3D printer price: how much does a metal 3D printer cost?
Industrial metal 3D printer prices generally range from about $30,000 to over one million dollars for the most premium, industrial-grade metal additive manufacturing systems.
Additional costs to consider are the materials for metal 3D printing, which can cost a few hundred USD/kg, as well as costs linked to post-processing (tools, time, etc.).
Applications for metal AM systems
There are thousands of possibilities and use cases for metal 3D printing in a wide range of industries. A few industries have been incrementally using metal AM:
Whether it’s for tooling, replacement parts, or final products, many businesses can benefit from metal 3D printing.
However, metal additive manufacturing isn’t necessarily beneficial for every single metal part. Although some metal 3D printing systems have a relative capacity for serial production, it is generally cheaper to keep using traditional methods for simple parts.
For cases where complex geometries, rapid prototyping, and mass customization are required, metal AM is convenient and efficient.
Metal 3D printing technologies and acronyms
Many manufacturers develop proprietary variations of existing technologies and label them their own registered names:
- Powder Bed Fusion (PBF): DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering), DMP (Direct Metal Printing), LaserCUSING, LBM (Laser Beam Melting), LMF (Laser Metal Fusion), SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), SLM (Selective Laser Melting)
- Directed Energy Deposition (DED): DMT (Direct Metal Tooling), EBAM (Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing), EBM (Electron Beam Melting), LENS (Laser Engineered Net Shaping), LMD (Laser Metal Deposition)
- Metal Material Jetting (MJ) or Binder Jetting (BJ): Magnet-o-Jet, Nanoparticle Jetting, SPJ (Single Pass Jetting), Metal Jet
- Metal filament extrusion/Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): ADAM (Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing), CEM (Composite Extrusion Modeling), FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), FFD (Fused Feedstock Deposition), FMP (Filament Metal Printing), BMD (Bound Metal Deposition), MIM (Metal Injection Molding)
- Lamination: SL (Sheet Lamination), UAM (Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing)
- Metal resin 3D printing: DLP (Digital Light Processing), FluidFM, SLA (Stereolithography)
Metal 3D printing FAQ
Metal 3D printed parts can be as strong (or even stronger) as metal parts created with traditional manufacturing processes such as casting. The part’s strength will, however, depend on the metal AM method used and the conditions in which it is 3D printed.
Metal 3D printing became possible in the 1990s with the development of Selective Laser Melting technology. However, 3D metal printing only started to gain traction and public interest from around 2010 onwards.
There are several ways to 3D print metal. Layers of metal filament can be deposited one after the other, producing a green part that must later go through debinding and sintering steps. It is also possible to fuse metal powder particles together with a laser, or with an inkjet printhead that deposits drops of binding material onto the powder.