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If you work within heavy industry, chances are that metal 3D printing is already on your radar. Taking the additive manufacturing industry into the future, metal 3D printing can transform the industry, create significant cost savings for businesses, reduce the downtime of essential equipment and increase the lifecycle of machinery.
This article gives a brief overview of what metal 3D printing is, what the process involves and the benefits it can provide for companies looking to utilise the process to manufacture spare parts.
- The Technologies
- Lead Times
- Cost Savings
There are many metal 3D printing technologies available and choosing the right one depends on several factors such as the type of parts and the applications they are used for.
We take a brief look at four of the leading technologies to help you understand what each process entails.
Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)
Laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) uses a high-power laser as a heat source to selectively melt and fuse metal powders to build a part, layer by layer.
As it stands, LPBF is the most well-known and adopted technology in the metal additive manufacturing industry. It can produce small to medium-sized parts with high resolution and superior mechanical properties.
Direct Energy Deposition (DED)
Direct energy deposition (DED) is a process that uses a focused energy source to deposit melted material — usually powder or wire — onto a surface where it solidifies, creating a printed part.
DED is a relatively new technology and often requires more post-processing to achieve the desired finish. However, due to its high material build rate, it is one of the most cost-effective processes for creating large parts and can also be used to repair existing parts.
Binder Jetting (BJT)
Binder jetting technology (BJT) is a process where a binding agent is selectively deposited onto a bed of metal powder to form a part, layer by layer. The part is then sintered to remove the binding agent and bring the mechanical properties to the required level. During the sintering process the part shrinks, making it difficult to predict how the final part will turn out.
BJT can print parts quickly and for small parts, the impact of shrinkage can be controlled with minimal risk of warping.
Metal Fused Deposition Modelling (Metal FDM)
Metal fused deposition modelling (metal FDM) is an extrusion process where a metal filament is heated and drawn through a nozzle, where it is then deposited layer by layer to form a printed part.
As with BJT, metal FDM also requires a sintering process which shrinks the part. The mechanical properties of the final part tend to be lower due to the creation of voids and bubbles during the deposition process.
A common misconception with metal 3D printing spare parts is that it’s a simple case of pressing ‘print’ and you’re good to go. In reality, several steps need to be carried out before and after the printing process to produce the final part.
Many variables impact the overall lead time of a metal 3D printing project, including the part’s complexity, size, material and whether the part has been printed before.
The typical process starts with design, moving on to printing and finally post-processing. Depending on how these activities are performed, the overall lead time could be anything between three and 30 days.
Post-processing is a large part of the overall process and is often necessary to achieve the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish specified in a drawing.
Depending on the type of 3D printing process used, different types of post-processing are required. Parts with overhangs and complex geometries may require support structures, which have to be removed after the printing process.
For example, with LPBF, the first step is to cut the metal parts from the build plate using an EDM wire cutter or band saw. Next, the support structures are removed using hand tools, followed by residual machining operations to achieve the desired tolerance of critical dimensions.
As metal 3D printing becomes increasingly popular throughout heavy industry, its adoption presents the opportunity for many cost savings for businesses:
- Reduced spare part inventory: It is possible to achieve shorter lead times using metal 3D printing. This means faster replenishment rates and less spare part inventory is needed to maintain your operations.
- Reduced downtime: Once again, the shorter lead times of metal 3D printing means less time waiting for spare parts and reduced operating downtime.
- Increase the lifespan of equipment: Since 3D printing allows for greater design freedom, it is also possible to further improve the reliability of your system and the lifespan of your equipment.
Although metal 3D printing can significantly reduce costs, this doesn’t mean all metal spare parts should be created using this method.
For large or simple parts that need to be produced in bigger quantities, traditional manufacturing can be the more cost-efficient method. However, if you need to produce a small batch of a complex part, then there are greater economic benefits in using metal 3D printing.
Therefore, conventional manufacturing methods and metal 3D printing should work hand-in-hand to provide the best overall output for a business.
Want to Learn More About Metal 3D Printing for Spare Parts?
Then you’ve come to the right place. Our Transforming Heavy Industry Through Metal 3D Printing guide is the resource you need to find out everything there is to know about metal 3D printing. We take a deeper dive into the technologies, lead times, implementation options and part applications so you can find out whether metal 3D printing is something that will work for you.
Simply click the link below to get your free access today.