Steel Companies investing in new 3D Metal Printing
Metal 3D printing is a burgeoning area at the moment. Many companies are investing in metal 3D printing systems and the market is growing quickly. There are a number of different metal 3D printing technologies out there. In this article we’ll give you an overview of the major technologies in the space. In this installment we’re looking at Powder Bed Fusion.
Powder Bed Fusion
In Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) a bed of metal powder is sintered together by a laser. A new layer of powder is applied and the process repeats. A more apt name may be powder bed confusion because there are a number of vendors selling essentially the same technology under different names. LaserCusing, Selective Laser Melting, Additive Layer Manufacturing and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) are all essentially the same thing. Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a similar process that uses an electron beam instead of a laser.
Powder Bed Fusion is probably the most mature and well researched metal printing technology. It is being used at scale to produce orthopedics and aerospace parts. It is also being used to make millions of dental bridges and crowns.
Build volumes are limited but this technology is capable of efficiently producing thousands of mechanical parts to spec.
Titanium is the most popular commercial material along with cobalt chromes for dental. There are several titanium grades available as well as tool steels, aluminium, pure titanium and hastelloy, inconel and other superalloys for high temperature applications such as rocket engines.
The vendors in the space are moving from lab based systems to manufacturing systems that have automated powder handling, quality assurance and some post processing on board. Whereas initially a lot of these machines went to universities, now many aerospace customers are driving growth. Compared to other metal 3D printing technologies PBF produces more detailed mechanical parts. PBF parts are being used in satellites, rockets, rocket engines, drones, military aircraft and civilian aircraft. The fact that there are several vendors in the space and a comparatively high installed base at universities means that more research is being done on commercializing and improving PBF than on other technologies. The techge, nology is essentially the only one currently capable of producing high volume mechanical parts for aerospace, automotive, dental and manufacturing applications.