With technological innovation, metal 3D printing technology is advancing and can already play an increasingly important role and has certain advantages over traditional processes such as casting and forging.
- Build complex shapes that cannot be created by traditional processes
Metal 3D printers create objects layer by layer, using the most common example of powder bed fusion, where a laser repeatedly melts and cures metal powder bit by bit to create objects. Forming restrictions are relatively small and complex structures like lattices can be created.
As a result, parts that cannot be demoulded and that cannot be accessed by tools for cutting can be manufactured by 3D printing.
In addition, metal 3D printed parts are already stronger than castings and are approaching forging strength as technology continues to advance.
- Lightweighting can be achieved
Due to the small moulding constraints, 3D printing can take full advantage of generative design and topology optimisation, where unnecessary parts are reduced by algorithms during the design phase and then manufactured by 3D printing.
- Low part count and high efficiency
The high degree of design freedom of the 3D printing process allows the design to be fully utilised, not only to reduce unnecessary parts but also to integrate multiple parts into a single unit, increasing efficiency and reducing energy consumption.
- Short lead times
When the number of parts is relatively small, or when only one piece is needed, 3D printing not only has a short production time, but also a cheap unit price. This makes metal 3D printing suitable for the production of prototypes or small batches.
- High precision requires post-processing
Metal 3D printing is limited in the precision it can achieve. If the precision is very high, it needs to be achieved later through other processes such as finishing.
- General surface finish
The surface finish of metal 3D printed parts is relatively rough compared to traditional processes and requires post-processing to achieve a more desirable surface finish.
- Not suitable for mass production
When the production scale reaches a certain number, the economic efficiency of metal 3D printing decreases and it is currently not capable of handling the task of mass production, which can be done in small batches.
- Not suitable for printing large sized objects
Because of the thermal stress, metal 3D printing is currently not suitable for printing large objects, which are prone to warping and other phenomena.
However, the new metal 3D printing technology represented by jetting technology has overcome this difficulty, but it is not yet widespread enough. In the future, metal 3D printing will also be able to manufacture large parts.
- Difficult to replace traditional processes
At present, when an object can be manufactured both by traditional processes and by 3D printing, often the traditional processes have more of a cost advantage.
Overall, metal 3D printing is a good complement to current metal processes and will be used more widely in the future as its technology continues to advance and improve.