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Designing for Metal AM is Key
For now, metal AM is not exactly a manufacturing floor or engineering department staple, but it is making headway. A recent survey from Market Reports World projects the metals 3D printing market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of almost 22% from 2021 to 2025, increasing revenue by $1.3 billion. Grandview Research is projecting 27.8% CAGR growth between 2020 and 2027, fueled by increased adoption in the medical, automotive, and aerospace and defense sectors.
Despite the uptick, the high-cost and complex nature of traditional metal 3D printers have put them out of reach for a large segment of manufacturers and engineering shops. That dynamic has shifted over the last few years as prices have declined and a spate of next-generation models have made the technology more accessible.
Don’t underestimate post-processing. Because it’s still relatively unknown in broad market circles, many companies tend to look at metal 3D printing, and metal AM in particular, as a black box. Experts say it’s a misconception to assume most offerings are a plug-and-play machine and that there won’t be significant machining and finishing work required to ensure a part comes out finished as intended.
Companies diving into metal AM need to cultivate an understanding about how particular materials operate in terms of structural integrity as well as gain a clear picture of what’s required for surface finishing and heat treatment to ensure there is no deformation and that parts will meet required tolerances. Often, companies don’t factor in the need for machine shop capabilities as an integral part of the metal AM process.SPEE3D’s supersonic 3D powder deposition (SP3D) process also helps defray post-processing challenges while operating up to 100 to 1,000 times faster than traditional MJF 3D printing processes, according to Bruce Colter, vice president and general manager for the Americas region of the company.
The software also features standardized recipes for parts, negating the need to develop new process parameters for every print job, saving time and reducing the need for SLS 3D printing specialists. Assure uses a multi-sensor defect detection system to predict bulk material properties for each part and to determine print health in real time, ensuring companies can move to production with verifiable part-to-part consistency.
“Historically, engineers have had to wait for something to be printed to scan and check results,” says Zach Murphree, vice president of technical partnerships at Velo3D.
Do embrace an iterative approach to design and manufacturing. That’s at the heart of the benefits of SLA 3D printing of all types. “Don’t be afraid to put something on the machine,” says Patrick Dunne, vice president of advanced application development at 3D Systems. “Maybe it doesn’t work, maybe it breaks, but it’s the ability to iterate at a high frequency and embrace Agile as a design approach that’s so interesting.”
Do get your feet wet with a service bureau. To determine whether metal AM makes sense for your applications, consider enlisting the help of a service bureau that has already gone through the learning curve and codified best practices to address complexities like part orientation or how to best plan for supports.
“We’ve already been through the growing pains,” contends David Bentley, senior manufacturing engineer for FDM 3D printing at Protolabs, a contract manufacturer. “Right now metal 3D printing isn’t a dark art, but there’s definitely some art to it. We can look at a part and come up with a solution that works on the first print and avoid a lot of that trial and error.”