Additive Manufacturing of Metals

The exciting field of 3D printing has captured the imagination of manufacturers and artists. A natural desire is to realize thoughts and dreams using metal due to their strength, durability and permanence.

3D printing and the field of additive manufacturing (AM) have received a lot of attention due to the introduction of personal 3D printers for the home, multi-million dollar government funding and corporate investments in R&D. The best way to temper the enthusiasm without losing momentum is to offer a balanced view of where the technology is today and where it can be tomorrow.

As manufacturers, how do we react to this opportunity? As a business owner, how can this affect my bottom line or that of my competitors? How mature is the technology of AM of metals and what long-term strategic advantages might it hold?

We have to provide a learning pathway to 3D metal printing of near net shaped, solid free-form objects. That is objects that require little finishing to use and do not rely on design constrained by the limitations of current fabrication methods. Additive manufacturing of metals is the term that broadens the scope to include a wide range of new shapes through a fabrication process that starts with a 3D computer model, incorporates the additive fabrication process, and ends up with a metal part with a never seen combination of functionalities.

It is key for people involved in the R&D process from ideation and design to finishing to learn how the power of computer based solid models and the advent of 3D printing services can enable the maker to create complex metal objects beyond the constraints of conventional metal processing. This implies 12 key steps:

  1. Set the stage and move from the dawn of metal processing to the dawn of 3D metal printing;
  2. Understand how novel designs and applications are made possible by additive manufacturing of metals, understand what application fields are hot and how these applications take us beyond conventional metal processing and point us toward the future;
  3. Know the backpack. How are you positioned to take advantage of this exciting new technology, with respect to the different types of AM processes;
  4. Analyze what properties of metal are relevant to building 3D printed objects, what metals work best for 3D printing and why;
  5. Understand high energy heat sources and how metal melts, fuses, and then cools into a solid part. Should you use a laser or an electron beam? What is the difference between metal sintering and metal fusing? When is using a plasma arc or gas metal arc source the best option?
  6. Differentiate 3D metal printing systems from those used for 3D printing of plastics and polymers;
  7. Understand how each method , from multi-million dollar machines to homemade motion systems and arc welding equipment starts with a model and end up with a part. Depending on the material and the application, the end product will be substantially different;
  8. Describe current additive manufacturing system configurations in detail to be able to choose the right process and services based upon the requirements of the design and end use of the part;
  9. Define a new design space for thinking “outside the box” by building upon the existing body of conventional metal working knowledge, complementing it, transforming it, and taking it to levels not possible a few short decades ago; introduce design concepts for hybrid processes that combine conventional materials processing with additive materials and shapes;
  10. Provide the knowledge of how to develop the process, the pre- and postprocessing operations and the critical considerations for choosing design features, materials, process conditions, and parameters;
  11. Decide whether to outsource additive manufacturing to a service provider or to purchase and develop an in-house capability;
  12. Step back and take a broader view to survey trends in government, industry, universities, and business systems to plot the course where the technology will have the greatest impact in the next ten years.

A common misperception is that AM of metals provides the ability to pull the part out of a 3D printer, bolt it up and drive off of fly away with it. This is rarely the case. Unlike plastics, post processing AM deposited metals may include highly specialized equipment and costly post processing operations. Knowledge of these operations is needed to achieve full functional performance of your metal part.

Our dreams need not be constrained by technology, time, space, and money. But their realization is inevitably and heavily influenced by these elements.

Source : Springer Series in Materials Science, 2017

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