Metal 3D Printing
It’s a common dilemma faced by organizations and individuals in deciding when to opt for Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) and when not to. Thus we have compiled a list of reasons that may come in handy in deciding the same.
Metal AM gives the feasibility of part consolidation. Due to elimination of conventional “design rules”, and ease of fabricating complex shapes, two or more parts can be combined together and manufactured as one single piece. What this does is, it makes assemblies simpler by eliminating multiple part geometries, thereby leading to an efficient product.
GE’s Leap nozzle is an epitome of part consolidation using Metal AM. GE’s engineers combined 20 separate parts into one single unit. The result was a part that was 25% lighter and was 5 times more durable than the earlier design.
Metal AM, or AM in general, should be used in applications wherein either the parts have a complex design and unconventional part geometry or the parts are difficult to fabricate using conventional manufacturing techniques. To give a heads-up, a simple, flat geometry like a cube, for example, would cost more in Metal AM as compared to a complex part design of the exact same size (bounding box dimensions). To exploit the true potential of Metal AM, one needs to leverage the capabilities of the technology — light weight lattice structures, topologically optimized bionic structures etc. to optimize the part for weight and performance.
One of the industries leveraging the true potential of Metal AM is the Medical sector. It perfectly fits the requirement of the technology — complex and customized parts. Metal AM finds applications in implants and pre-surgical guides. Since human anatomy is a highly complex mechanism and each individual has a unique body structure and features, medical implants are highly custom designed and fabricated on-demand based on patient’s requirement. Thus, the rule of thumb is that, if your part is highly customized, and required in fewer quantities, AM is the answer.
Cranial Plate fabricated in Metal AM. Image Source: Renishaw
Metal AM is viable when the part geometry is not too big and when the parts are required in fewer quantities. As the part size increases, so does the fabrication time and the material cost. Given the high costs associated with Metal AM powders, Metal AM is currently a highly cost-intensive manufacturing technology. But with the advent in material developments, and new players entering the market, the material cost is bound to decrease in the near future.
These points should serve as a quick check-list when qualifying a part for Metal AM.