Metal 3D printing, or metal additive manufacturing, is based on sintering or melting amorphous powder metal in a 3D space to make any object to shape. At a high level, the 3D printing process includes slicing a CAD file into discrete layers and then building that part layer by layer. Most common methods for additive metal manufacturing are direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), laser curing, and electron beam melting (EBM) and directed energy deposition. However the method of fused deposition of metals (the most common 3D non-metal printing process in use) is evolving rapidly towards the top of all procedures.
One of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise impossible to construct by hand, including hollow parts or parts with internal truss structures to reduce weight. The following metals can be used as raw material in 3D printing. The choice for a particular metal is based on the desired properties of the end product. All materials have different properties:
- Several alloys (nickel based alloys, copper based alloys, cobalt-chromium alloys, titanium alloys and aluminium alloys
New metals are being developed by the 3D printer manufacturers with the aim to design products with superior quality over products manufactured using other manufacturing methods.
The main disadvantage of metal 3D printing is the price for metal powders, which is usually high compared to the raw material prices used in other manufacturing technologies. These prices are expected to change when the number of suppliers increases.