Metal 3D printing is beginning to enter mainstream manufacturing
3D printing with metal is a difficult business. The temperatures required to melt metals are in the range of 1500°C, providing understandable limitations to the spread of this technology. Whilst major breakthroughs have recently been made in industrial 3D printing with metal – note for example Siemens’ 3D printed gas turbine blades and NASA’s bi metallic rocket fuel injector – the technology has been slow to adapt to the general manufacturing sector. That is, until now.
As metal 3D printing technology becomes more suitable for the mass market, D/SRUPTION takes a look at five companies leading the way.
1) Desktop Metal
Based in Massachusetts, USA, Desktop Metal’s aim is to bring down the cost and production time of 3D printing metal objects. Although only founded in 2015, the company has already received significant funding from Google, BMW and GE, with a further $65 million investment from Ford in March this year. Their proprietary Studio System covers the full product lifecycle of a 3D printed metal object, from prototyping to mass production. The technology is the first office friendly metal 3D printing system for rapid prototyping, and is ten times faster than existing technology.
2) Digital Metal
Digital Metal offers solutions to the manufacture of small and complex metal components. With applications in the medical and dental industries, aerospace and the luxury items market, Digital Metal ensures that 3D printing is competitive when compared to traditional mass production techniques. The company offers its own unique form of binder jetting technology – a 3D printing technique where a binding agent is used to bond layers of material together. The UK’s National Centre for Additive Manufacturing has recently added a Digital Metal printer to their armoury. At present, this technology is not available anywhere else in the UK.
Markforged’s Metal X 3D print system is an end to end manufacturing solution which takes its clients from design to fully functional metal parts in under 24 hours. At only $100,000, the Metal X printer costs far less than most industrial metal 3D printers. Individually printed parts are also cheaper to produce. Manufacturers of aircraft brackets can make a 98 per cent saving when compared to the cost of traditional machined parts. There are also significant time saving benefits too, with most items ready to be delivered to manufacturers the next day. Whilst the Metal X printer offers benefits on price, its limited print volume does mean that it is only suitable for relatively small parts.
Sciaky was founded in Chicago in 1939, making it one of the oldest 3D printing companies. Sciaky’s Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) technology was launched in 2009, and the company has since released a total of five metal 3D printers. These huge machines are ideal for producing large scale, high value metal parts of up to 19 feet in length. As well as using metal powders as printing materials, the technology is also capable of printing from metal wire feedstock. In general, this offers a wider selection and greater availability of metal materials for 3D printing.
Renishaw is a British company based in Gloucestershire, UK. They specialise in the creation of 3D printers which are capable of rapidly producing bespoke, lightweight metal parts. Renishaw’s printers are compatible with a range of different metals and alloys, including titanium, aluminium, cobalt, stainless steel and nickel. The company recently collaborated with British bicycle designer and manufacturer Empire Cycles, to create the first ever 3D printed metal bicycle frame. The titanium mountain bike frame is around 33 per cent lighter than its traditionally manufactured counterparts. Other industry applications for Renishaw’s technology include the creation of luxury watches, customisable mountain bikes and a nose tip for a supersonic car.
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