3D printing in the metal industry: Advantages and areas of application

When it comes to processing metals and metal powders, one particular method has increasingly found itself the object of focus in recent years: 3D printing. That’s why we are providing you in this article with a summary of what 3D printing is actually capable of and which advantages it offers the metal industry.

3D printing: More than just a gimmick

3D printing has long since ceased to be of interest only to ambitious hobbyists or experts who enjoy experimenting. On the contrary: 3D printing is gradually becoming established in more and more industries and areas of application – offering new opportunities and innovations. Whereas plastic was originally the primary player in the additive manufacturing sector, today, a range of different materials is available. Whether we are talking about food, artificial joints or even whole buildings: The development of innovative fields of application is marching ahead.

Although 3D printing in the metal industry is less visionary, it has already become part of everyday life. This is due to the fact that even the most diverse metals can be modelled into the desired shape using the right 3D printer.

What are the advantages of additive manufacturing?

When we look at the advantages of 3D printing, we always do so by comparing it to traditional manufacturing methods, such as injection moulding, sintering or the processing of solid materials. Good to know: 3D printing is not just one single, specific manufacturing method. Instead, a wide range of basic methods and a continual flow of new developments, such as laser melting and laser deposition methods, are open to you, covering different areas of application. However, the main advantages of 3D printing are common to all these processes.

High flexibility

High flexibility is one of the characteristics of 3D printing which puts it apart from the rest. Components can be produced quickly and on the spur of the moment so that they do not need to be produced in advance. This eliminates the high storage costs caused by unused components. It is also quicker and easier to individually adapt single components compared to traditional manufacturing methods. This means that you can react to customer requests and changes better.

3D prints also require less post-processing

One of the strengths of 3D printing is its high precision. There are hardly ever any deviations from the original plan. This technology provides you with the chance to manufacture complicated, top-level components without the need for costly post-processing. This saves you both time and money during the production process.

3D printing reduces maintenance effort

Additive manufacturing allows you to manufacture even complex components as if they were cast in one go. Instead of using several small, fragile components that then need to be assembled, you can make one combined component. This reduces your maintenance and repair costs – a saving that you can either pass straight on to your customers or exploit to maximise profits.

Generally, it can be said that: Using the right 3D printer can save valuable resources during the production process. This streamlines your entire process and offers simple customisation options.

Where is 3D printing currently being used in the metal industry?

In theory, printing metals using 3D technology can be done in any area focused on processing metal using traditional methods. Nickel, steel, titanium, copper, aluminium and magnesium in their pure forms or as alloys are the metals primarily processed. However, other metals, such as stainless steel, are also used. The following are examples of possible fields of application:

  • Automotive industry: Development of prototypes, manufacture of components for the luxury segment, initial series part production runs
  • Aerospace: Jet engines
  • Railways: Spare parts
  • Tool manufacturing: Injection moulds
  • Medical technology: Prostheses, implants

Wherever complex geometries, small components, a reduction in weight or the minimisation of the number of components is required, 3D printing scores points – regardless of the industry concerned.

3D printing in the metal industry: Potential for the world of today and tomorrow

Today, the metal industry is already benefitting from 3D printing technology. Problems such as the comparatively high cost of larger production volumes and the lack of universally applicable standards are just some of the reasons why the full potential of this manufacturing method has not yet been fully exploited. However, 3D technology manufacturers are currently developing their products at an enormous pace – pushing the use of additive manufacturing in the metal industry ahead. Maybe you will also find your perfect solution in this area – be it today or tomorrow.

Don't forget our buying guide for metal powder!

Here we have summarised the most important aspects and differences between the various powders.

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