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How to Successfully Incorporate Metal 3D Printing into Your Product Development Process

Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing is rapidly being adopted by companies of all types and sizes. The technology is being incorporated into design and product development workflows, alongside, and in some instances, even replacing traditional manufacturing processes altogether. Prototypes, as well as end-use production metal parts, can be created with metal 3D printing. The process works by using a laser to selectively fuse/melt together powder that contains small metal particles. 

Unlike traditional manufacturing processes that are mostly subtractive and inherently include a high amount of waste, metal 3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that only uses the amount of material that is needed to build the part, so there is little to no waste. 

Metal 3D printing can be cost-prohibitive though when considering whether to bring the process in-house, due to the capital cost of equipment, its installation, materials, and training. That’s why outsourcing additive manufacturing to companies that specialize in metal 3D printing services makes sense for many companies. 

If you’re considering incorporating metal 3D printing into your prototyping or product development process, here are some tips.

Explore Potential Advantages Over Traditional Manufacturing Methods

One big advantage of using a metal 3D printing service in your product design workflow is the fact that it can decrease the time it takes to get a part from the design stage, through prototyping and testing, to the production of the final part, when compared to traditional processes. This also means that there may be more time to try additional design iterations of a part. 

Cost savings from having little to no waste in the process is another reason to consider metal 3D printing. Subtractive processes inherently have a high amount of waste as material needs to be removed from larger stock parts, whereas additive manufacturing adds only the material that is needed, layer by layer. 

Weight lossing and part reduction are also potential advantages. Complex assemblies can be printed as one part with metal 3D printing, while traditional manufacturing would normally require multiple parts, processes, and fastening/joining methods.

Potential for Varied Materials and Processes

In addition to the advantages discussed above, utilizing a metal 3D printing service gives you access to all the various materials and processes that they have in-house. Many metal 3D printing services offer metal alloys such as stainless steel, cobalt chrome, maraging steel, aluminum, nickel alloy, titanium, and more. Multiple finishing options are typically available as well, including everything from a raw finish to a shot blast finish, to a shiny mirror-polished finish. 

Outsourcing to a metal 3D printing service that offers multiple materials means that you can have greater design flexibility in terms of the look, feel and strength of your part. Likewise, having more than one metal 3d printing process to choose from will give you additional ways to explore part functionality. 

Here we need to do a bit of clarification in process terminology. While many believe that DMLS and DMLM (Direct Metal Laser Melting) are different processes that turn out different results, that is inaccurate.  Actually, there is no such thing as thing as Direct Metal Laser Sintering! They are both the same thing, but why is that?

EOS coined (trademarked) the name DMLS, which they called ‘Direct Metal Laser Sintering’, undoubtedly in an attempt to brand their technology.  Unfortunately, this was a misnomer, and is very misleading.  When using EOS default parameters, a melt pool is formed and a fully-dense structure, equivalent to wrought, results.  This is identical to processes referred to as DMLM.  

In a statement intended to clarify, EOS recently stated that, going forward, they would prefer the word ‘solidification’ (as opposed to ‘sintering’) be used in describing their DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Solidification) process.

There are sintered-based 3D printing technologies out there as well, but EOS is not one of them – EOS is melt-pool based. Other equipment makers do use sintering - but as a secondary step in their process – heating the printed part in an oven to harden it and reduce its porosity.

All this is to say that you might need some guidance from the experienced metal 3D printing technicians at GPI Prototype and Manufacturing Services to see how they can help you successfully incorporate metal 3D printing into your next product design project. At GPI – We build the part with you, NOT apart from you.

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