4 Types of Metal Additive Manufacturing

Sep 16th 2022

a 3D printer working on black and white products

Steadily decreasing input costs and industry acceptance are quickly bringing metal additive manufacturing (AM) into the spotlight. What used to be a manufacturing niche reserved for prototyping and rare use cases is now a universally reliable method of high-volume production.

Let’s have a look at the different types of metal AM and the one most suited for your business.

Binder Jet

While not as popular as other forms of metal additive manufacturing, binder jetting offers a few significant advantages in terms of cost efficiency and the quality of the output. Binder jetting involves using an agent to bind the metal powder deposited on the powder bed in layers.

What Can I Use It For?

Binder jetting technology isn’t as expensive as some of the other methods on this list, and also allows engineers to realize highly complex designs. Going for binder jet metal additive manufacturing might be a good idea if you’re looking to create a complex prototype.

The relative speed offered by this type of metal AM also makes it suitable for creating multiple smaller tools and components. Not only can binder jetting produce outputs quickly, but it can also complete multiple products in one print - saving a significant amount of time and money.

Things To Look Out For

The initial investment involved in getting started with this type of 3D printing can be a deterrent to smaller businesses. This includes the cost of having to purchase extra tools to refine final products.

Powder Bed Fusion

Powder bed fusion is one of the most widely known types of metal additive manufacturing. This tried and tested method uses lasers to melt the powder on the powder bed. This specific variant is also referred to as Selective Laser Melting (SLM).

What’s It Good At?

Nearly everything! You're going to find possible applications in almost every industry you might be targeting, considering how ubiquitous this type of metal AM is. Whether you’re using stainless steel to produce high-volume components or titanium powder for aerospace manufacturing, SLM is the go-to choice.

What Are The Cons?

The relatively lower cost of this popular metal additive manufacturing method is offset by slightly longer print times. This disadvantage can be even more significant if a business is attempting to manufacture larger volumes under tight deadlines. Factor in the additional time required for post-processing (if necessary) for a better estimate of total time required for a print.

a black 3D printer finishing a yellow print

Vat Polymerization

If powder bed fusion sounds appealing but a little too slow for your needs, then vat polymerization could be the solution you’ve been looking for. This process is remarkably similar to the SLM technique - the difference is that manufacturers use a vat of resin rather than a powder bed to create the final product.

Faster Metal AM

Similar to the other methods mentioned in this list, vat polymerization also creates its products in layers. These layers are successively hardened by an ultraviolet laser that lends accuracy and speed to the process. Vat polymerization could be the right metal additive manufacturing method for you if your business prioritizes high-volume production with a relatively high degree of accuracy.

The Cost of Speed

This speed and accuracy does come at a significant cost. The resin involved in vat polymerization tends to be more expensive than some of the other popular input materials used in metal additive manufacturing. Manufacturers will have to balance acquisition and post-processing costs with the benefits involved. Keep in mind that products created through polymerization have to be thoroughly cleaned after being removed from the resin.

a metal additive manufacturing machine

Energy Deposition

Direct Energy Deposition (DED) is, in a sense, similar to welding. In this metal AM process, metal powder is fed through a nozzle and melted by an incredibly powerful heat source - typically an electron or laser beam. This material is then used to create the final output on a platform.

What Is DED Good At?

Due to the unique nature of this process, DED can be particularly useful for maintenance and customization services. Completed prints can easily be repaired or improved with additional layers, saving businesses the additional cost of having to re-print.

This metal additive manufacturing method also creates dense products, making it suitable for demanding markets like automotive.

The Downsides of DED

DED is a notably more complex process than most other metal AM methods. As one might expect, machines used for DED can be a hefty investment - particularly for smaller businesses that aren’t operating at scale yet. Additionally, print resolutions for DED products might not be as high as something created using SLM.

Achieve The Impossible With Additive Manufacturing

Regardless of the current size of your business, these metal additive manufacturing methods offer an unbeatable opportunity to scale to greater heights. Get started with KBM - our selection of premium metal powders are empowering businesses to achieve more with fast lead times and hassle-free ordering.

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