Powder bed fusion (PBF) is an exceptional 3D printing technique used in additive manufacturing for creating complex three-dimensional objects with high precision and accuracy. It’s the most commonly used additive manufacturing method because of its versatility and remarkable speed in the production of complex geometries. This is why powder bed fusion additive manufacturing is continuing to gain popularity among manufacturers.
In this blog, we’ll explore what powder bed fusion is, and its different processes, advantages, limitations, and industrial applications so interested manufacturers and their product teams can determine whether this is the right technology for their business.
How Powder Bed Fusion Works
Powder bed fusion works on the same principle of additive manufacturing where an object is built layer by layer using 3D printing powder rather than by traditional metalworking. The powder bed fusion additive manufacturing process begins with a 3D CAD model being uploaded onto the machine which then spreads a thin and even layer of powder across a platform using a roller. Next, a high-energy source such as a laser or an electron beam is used to fuse the powder together according to the design. After the layer is complete, another layer is created on top of it using the same method over and over until the digital model is completely printed.
Different Types of Powder Bed Fusion
There are a few different powder bed fusion additive manufacturing techniques that differ based on the heat source and the material used. Each powder bed fusion process has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to know the distinction to pick the right method.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
In Selective Laser Sintering, a powdered polymer like nylon is fed as material and is sintered using a high-energy laser beam. This method doesn’t require any support structures during printing since the parts are supported by the surrounding powder itself.
Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)
Also known as Selective Laser Melting (SLM), this powder bed fusion additive manufacturing method utilizes metal powder instead of polymers and then melts and fuses it using a laser beam. For LPBF, parts may require external support structures and thermal control in addition to an inert environment to prevent oxidation, nitriding, and combustion of the material.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
In the Electron Beam Melting powder bed fusion process, a stream of electrons is fired at the pre-heated powder bed in a vacuum to melt the material. This process doesn’t typically require support structures.
Advantages of Powder Bed Fusion
When we talk about what is powder bed fusion additive manufacturing’s biggest advantage, it is its ability to produce complex and intricately-designed parts that are either too challenging or impossible to produce through traditional manufacturing. The layer-by-layer approach allows for a whole range of details that are too time-consuming to create or simply unattainable through traditional methods. Some other advantages of PBF are:
- Creates parts with excellent dimensional accuracy.
- Offers immense flexibility for design which is helpful in rapid prototyping.
- Produces parts faster than traditional methods.
- Reduces material wastage as compared to subtractive manufacturing. Powder can be recycled and reused to an extent.
- Works with a wide range of materials such as ceramics, glass, plastics, and atomized materials such as stainless steel, aluminum, alloys, etc.
- Requires minimal support structures which allows the creation of complex inner structures.
- Efficiently reduces production times and production costs.
Limitations of Powder Bed Fusion
While powder bed fusion additive manufacturing offers many advantages, it still has some significant limitations that one should be aware of:
- Powder bed fusion process is slower than other additive manufacturing methods like Metal Injection Molding (MIM).
- Some support is required or else parts can warp due to residual stress.
- Surface finish isn’t smooth. Similar to processes like sand casting.
- Requires post-processing to improve mechanical properties and surface finish, as well as reduce residual stress.
- Only small parts can be produced due to a fixed build volume and size constraint.
- Keeping the powder bed constantly heated leads to thermal distortion of polymers.
- Preheating the powder leads to gradual loss of properties so it can’t be recycled endlessly.
Applications of Powder Bed Fusion
Despite its limitations, powder bed fusion additive manufacturing is a popular method that’s used by many different markets and industries. For example, in aerospace, it’s used to manufacture lightweight components like fuel nozzles that need to have high strength and heat resistance. It’s used in the medical field for creating customized implants, prosthetics, and surgical tools. In the automotive industry, PBF is used for rapid prototyping and producing complex, lightweight structures like turbocharger housings, air ducts, and exhaust components that result in improved fuel efficiency.
Shop Powder Bed Fusion Materials at KBM
Powder bed fusion additive manufacturing is a revolutionary process that can help you take your business to the next level. If you’re ready to take this leap, take a look at our range of metal powder products for powder bed fusion.
KBM’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce model makes it easy for you to order your desired materials with just a few clicks as opposed to the outdated method of ordering from the manufacturer. And with a shipping time of 1-2 days, we’ve completely eliminated the long waiting times so your business can keep running smoothly. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about what powder bed fusion additive manufacturing is, or our metal powders.