Demands of industrial metal 3D printing on equipment and production quality
Industrial metal 3D printing that meets the needs of companies places certain demands on equipment and production quality. In this blog, we review the criteria and why companies planning to start additive manufacturing should consider them.
High quality metal 3D printing is the sum of many factors
Let’s start this time with the question: what do you think high-quality metal 3D printing means?
At 3D Formtech, we start from the premise that the surface quality, precision and durability of components produced with additive manufacturing must meet the requirements of industry. Did you know that today 3D-printed metal components can be found in the blades of aircraft engine turbines, for example? That’s something to think about the next time you fly south for a holiday in a warm climate. This is the level of quality we expect from metal additive manufacturing. To be clear, we are talking about ready-to-use and guaranteed durable components — not just representations as with prototypes.
Industrial metal 3D printing consists of many factors. A 3D printer capable of high-quality metal 3D printing is not enough on its own. Tested process parameters are needed to support it.
Process parameters and metal 3D printing
Process parameters can be understood as if they were 3D printing settings. As we all know from using everyday applications, if the settings are off, the end-result is rarely what we want. This logic also applies to 3D printing process parameters.
The process parameters in DMLS are used to control, for example, how the laser of a 3D printer melts the powdered metal material being used. The parameters are different, depending on the material: aluminium 3D printing, for example, has different settings than when 3D printing steel.
When the process parameters are set correctly, the final metallurgical quality is exactly what it should be. The correct settings produce non-porous, durable metal components that conform to the intended geometric shapes.
Tested and verified process parameters can be used to produce non-porous metal components. The challenge here is finding the right process parameters, which is not particularly easy. Namely, even small changes to the parameters can significantly affect the outcome. The metallurgical quality can be especially poor even if the outer appearance of the 3D printed component looks really good. Therefore, parameter changes cannot be made on the basis of mere guesswork; all changes must always be tested, tested, and tested once more.
Process parameters that have been tested and found feasible usually come from equipment manufacturers. They test the impacts of various parameters on a metal’s quality in their own laboratories and pass the information on to the equipment users. For example, at 3D Formtech, we use EOS-tested process parameters to make parts from ISO-compliant materials. We have an excellent edge in this respect because EOS is a world leader in its process expertise. What’s more, the development of process parameters takes place at EOS’s Turku office.
In theory, making changes to the process parameters yourself is possible but you must then test the quality of the result to ensure it meets all the set requirements.
3D printer for metal must meet high standards, too
We described above the importance of process parameters in terms of increasing production quality. The importance of the parameters is undeniable, but of course the same is true of the 3D printer. Without high-quality equipment, you cannot expect much from the result.
Firstly, a high-quality 3D printer for metal is precise, making the components the desired size, right down to the millimetre. Secondly, it is fast enough to easily handle small-scale serial production. This kind of quality generally requires extremely high-quality equipment components which of course are not particularly cheap. For this reason, high-quality 3D printers of metal are not widely available. With our EOS M 290 printer, for instance, we are a bit of a rarity even in the Nordic countries.
3D Formtech uses the EOS M 290 3D printer for metal.
The equipment you use in 3D printing metal is key. However, slightly caricaturing, we can say that the same equipment can produce a premium product or a complete flop. Consequently, you also need tested and verified process parameters and verified materials to reach a high-standard, industrial-level quality. When you add top design and expert simulation, metal 3D printing, all in all, begins to reach the required level of quality.
Indeed, the next article in our blog series will focus on the pre-production designing and the simulation stage in the 3D printing process. We will release the article soon, so stay tuned.
Want to know the benefits of metal additive manufacturing for your business? Please contact us any time and ask for more information. Send us your questions using the form below and we will get in touch with you as soon as possible.