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Metal 3D Printing Lead Times — How Long Does It Take?


Metal 3D printing can speed up the manufacturing process of spare parts, as well as increase efficiency and reliability. Possessing the ability to print complex parts with intricate geometries, metal 3D printing has the potential to significantly reduce downtime for businesses, making it an increasingly reliable method.

Read more: A Brief Guide to the 3D Printing of Metal Spare Parts

But how long does metal 3D printing actually take? We’ve broken the entire process down into steps and given an overview of the lead times associated with each.


The Process

The time taken for the overall metal 3D printing process largely depends on the technology used. As a general rule, producing a 3D printed part can take several days.

Below, we’ve given a top-level overview of the process and the lead times of each stage, so you can get an idea of how long the metal 3D printing process takes.


Design Creation and Optimisation

Up to several days

First, the part has to be transformed into a 3D model (CAD file) to load into the printer. This can be done by using a 2D drawing as a reference or by scanning the original part. The time taken for this process depends on the part complexity and level of information available about the part.

As a second step, the design can be further optimised to improve the manufacturability and functional performance of the part. Since 3D printing eliminates many design constraints, it is important to review the design prior to the production stage.  

The amount of optimisation and design iterations will impact the lead time for this stage and, therefore, the overall process.


The Printing Process

Up to five days

Once the 3D model is ready and the design is finalised, the part is ready to be printed. The time taken here will depend on several factors, but the most important is the type of technology used. It’s worth noting that all metal 3D printing processes have a relatively quick turnaround, meaning for complex parts, lead times tend to be much shorter than using traditional manufacturing.

Direct energy deposition (DED) tends to have the fastest build rate, followed by binder jetting (BJT) and laser powder bed fusion (LPBF). The build rate of LPBF can be increased through the use of multi-laser printer configurations, which is now typical with larger LPBF printers.

There are several other variables you need to take into account when establishing lead times, including volume of the part, the material used (some have higher melting temperatures than others) and the complexity of the part geometry. Parts with overhangs or other intricate features may require support structures to reduce the risk of deformation during the printing process. The more support structures, the longer the lead time.

While some printing techniques have faster build rates than others, they may require more post-processing due to the nature of the technology. That’s why it’s essential to look at the bigger picture of the overall lead time to get a true reflection of the time it’ll take to 3D print a part.



Up to three days

Once a part has been printed, numerous post-processing steps are often required. This stage might take the most amount of time, depending on the treatments needed. Once again, the treatments required and the time taken will depend on the technology used to print the part. 

For some technologies, there will be several essential post-processing steps:

  • Build plate removal - if the part is printed directly onto a build plate, then this plate will need to be removed, typically using an EDM wire cutter or band-saw.
  • Support structures removal - if the part is printed using support structures, these will need to be removed. For metal 3D printing, these support structures can be removed using hand tools.
  • Debinding & Sintering - technologies such as BJT and metal FDM print the part using a binding agent to adhere the metal compounds together. After printing, the part needs to be placed in a solvent bath and then a sintering oven to burn off the residual binding agent.

Other post-processing tasks may include heat treatments, CNC machining, polishing and other surface treatments. The application requirements of the part will determine the type of post-process treatments needed.


Quality Control

Up to one hour per part

As with any manufactured part, quality control is an essential part of the overall process. Quality control ensures the part is fit for purpose and meets the requirements defined in the design specifications.

During this step, the part's dimensions are checked against the technical drawing and any other quality inspection or mechanical tests are performed. The more tests, the longer the lead time.

Now, the only thing left to do is deliver the parts.


Explore the World of Metal 3D Printing

The metal 3D printing industry shows no signs of slowing down, so we have the guide you need to get you up to speed. 

In Transforming Heavy Industry Through Metal 3D Printing, we take a look at the key printing technologies, identify the parts and applications of metal 3D printing, as well as give an overview of the process and the lead times associated with it. 

Click the link below to get access to your free copy today.

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