Designing is the cornerstone of metal additive manufacturing

A successful designing stage is paramount in metal additive manufacturing. It is estimated that up to 30–40% of the entire 3D printing process of a metal component takes place before the actual production stage.

Role of designing and metal additive manufacturing

Designing plays a significant role in metal additive manufacturing. Good designing is reflected not only in the feasibility of the component but also in the achieved cost savings.

Metal additive manufacturing also sets certain technical conditions on the production of components. Taking these conditions into account already in the designing stage and staying within their boundaries, you can be sure the 3D printed component: 

a) is feasible to make, and
b) has the desired quality in terms of both metallurgical and surface properties.

Impact of designing on production costs

Designing plays a significant role in curbing the costs of metal additive manufacturing. There are at least two ways in which you can save costs in the designing stage: 1) optimising the amount of material used in production and 2) minimising the post-processing work the support structures cause.

The savings you achieve by considering the amount of material you use are easy to understand – the less material you use to make a component means less consumption of it and less time it takes to make the component.

The impact of the positioning of the support structures on costs will probably need a little more explaining. It is important to understand that support structures are used in the production of a 3D printed component to ensure the desired shape and quality of it. The problem with the support structures, however, is that removing them retroactively increases the component’s post-processing time and ultimately the production costs. You can minimise these costs already on the design table by carefully planning the arrangement of the support structures. This minimises the number of structures you need and, therefore, has a direct impact on cost of the component.

Of course, there are also exceptions: a component can be designed for printing without support structures. From the point of view of costs, this is the best option – and the primary aim of designing. Very often, however, support structures are needed to make the component. The main aim in this case is to design the production in such a way that the support structures remain inside the component, eliminating the need for post-processing. If this is not possible, the support structures are left on the outside of the component and, for example, machining is used to remove them from the finished component.

Foundations of the designing work

The ultimate goal of the designing stage in metal additive manufacturing is to ensure a successful printing process. It starts with the designing principles for the component to be 3D printed. Several rules govern designing; the general rules in the sector impose certain conditions, for example, designing should facilitate production and 3D printing. These conditions are further governed by the rules pertaining to the technology and equipment, that is, certain types of geometries may depend on the type of equipment used.

In addition, companies providing 3D printing services may have their own specific areas of expertise and related principles to support designing.

Designing starts with the designing rules governing the component to be 3D printed. The requirements for the arrangement of the support structures must also be taken into account in the designing stage. As stated above, minimising the number of support structures is one of the key aims in the designing stage.

The support structures, as the name implies, support the component and keep it in place during the printing process. As a rule of thumb, you will need support structures if the angle of the component’s shapes needs to be expanded less than 45 degrees. The support structures also act as thermal conductors, preventing the component from overheating during the printing process. If a component needing support structures is made without them, the quality of the component will suffer significantly: the shapes will be distorted, and the quality of the surface will be substandard.

Steps in metal additive manufacturing

The designing stage in metal additive manufacturing often begins when a company delivers drawings for the component it needs to a company that provides 3D printing services. In practice, this means the designer must transform a component that has already been designed into a 3D printable format. Before production can begin, the following must be determined on the design table:

a) the position in which the component should be printed
b) the number and arrangement of the component’s supporting structures and heat conductors
c) the types of geometries possible for the component in question

If the designer notices at this stage issues in the component’s structure that affect costs, balance in the production stage, or the component’s functionality, he or she will (at least in our case) contact the customer and suggest changes. Ideally, an expert in additive manufacturing should be involved at an earlier stage to ensure the component is designed to conform to additive manufacturing from the start, which would clearly increase cost-effectiveness.

Finally, the resulting 3D model is put through various simulation programs before the production begins. Simulations ensure that the component’s properties, such as amount of material, rigidity, and fluidity, are optimised and that the heating elements remain under control during production. Different software is available for thermal simulation alone. The software allows you to see how the component changes during production and how, for example, heat deflection can be compensated.

The duration of the entire designing stage depends on the component and the stage at which the additive manufacturing expert enters the scene. At 3D Formtech, we deliver metal components in about 3–10 days. We spend approximately one day within that time on designing.


In the light of the above, we can say with good reason that successful and cost-effective metal additive manufacturing is very strongly linked to careful designing that sticks to the designing protocol. 

It is also clear that there are numerous things to consider in the designing phase of metal additive manufacturing, and successful designing calls for not only expertise but also investments in software that support designing. Therefore, when designing metal additive manufacturing, you should rely only on professionals in the field who have experience in making functioning, durable, and high-quality 3D components.