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How to 3D print with metal


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Posted · How to 3D print with metal


3D printing with metal is fascinating and has an appeal to many people. It can produce impressive results and handle some applications that are just out of reach for the usual (reinforced) plastics that we usually use. So how could you go about it?


3D printing is a broad term, well beyond FFF we're all familiar with. And many technologies can process metals (often with a hefty price tag) Below we briefly describe the most commonly used technologies:


Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS uses a laser to melt and fuse metal powder. This is called sintering. It uses alloys (rather than a single type of metal), which are made up of metals with different melting points. They fuse together as the temperature rises. 


Bound Metal Disposition (BMD)
BMD extrudes, similar as FFF. It requires metal bound in rods of polymer or sacrificial wax rather than powder. 


Selective Laser Melting (SLM).
Much like DMLS, SLM also uses a laser. But in contrary to DMLS, SLM only requires a single metal instead of alloy. 


There is also Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and Ultrasonic Additive Manufacturing (UAM) but they’re less commonly used. 


And although not 3D printing, there are also other means of manufacturing that are commonly used to process metals. 


Investment casting. 
Investment casting uses a mold (which can be 3D printed), in which the molten metal is poured. Investment casting allows for a good level of detail and is quite popular. As an example, a good success story that does investment casting is Sylatech


CNC machining.
The technologies above are quite costly, some even out of reach of most SMEs. CNC is much more affordable than some of the technologies mentioned above and can also process metals. It is not Additive manufacturing, instead it is subtractive. While it is more affordable, it also has some limitations to being less effective for parts that require geometric complexity.


Now we wouldn’t be writing this if we also didn’t have something to contribute to this topic. But it may not be for everyone, your hardware needs to be up to the task! 


Hardware requirements. 

  • Build-plate: You need a heated bed which can reach between 45ºC and 60ºC. An enclosure is not necessary. 
  • Build-plate surface: The surface may require tape (oh hello old friend), PEI and a glue stick. 
  • Extruder: A CC Core is required, and temperatures between 190ºC and 220ºC. 
  • Fan: A cooling fan is a necessity. 


So, which materials do we have in the marketplace? 


BASF Ultrafuse 316L
Talking about metal 3D printing, there is only one real champion in our marketplace. And that is BASF Ultrafuse 316L. BASF Ultrafuse 316L is a metal-polymer composite, containing 80% stainless steel and 20% polymer. Ultrafuse 316L has the following properties:
•    Produces stainless-steel type 316L parts
•    Tensile strength of 561 MPa
•    Yield strength of 251 MPa
•    Vickers hardness of 128 HV10
•    Elongation at break of 53%
 After your print is completed on your Ultimaker it needs to be post processed, meaning debinding and sintering. 




There are also materials in our marketplace which are not metals but have some similar properties in case you need just low-friction or high tensile strength:


  • DSM Arnitel ID 2060 HT and Clariant PA6/66GF 20 FR. Both filaments are thermoplastic and able to withstand very high temperatures, just like a metal. They also offer good wear resistance
  • Arkema FluorX and DuPont Zytel 3D12G30FL BK309. These materials make excellent substitutes for stainless steel, as they offer a high level of corrosion resistance. Chemicals such as solvents, automotive fluids, and cleaning agents don’t result in any deterioration
  • Igus Iglidur 180. This filament is self-lubricating, which makes it highly resistant to wear and tear. It’s suitable for creating parts that are traditionally metal, such as bearings, toothed wheels, piston rings, and gears
  • XSTRAND GF30-PA6. This filament contains 30% glass fiber, which gives it good chemical resistance, high tensile strength, and a good operational temperature. It is well-suited for printing jigs and fixtures
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    Posted · How to 3D print with metal

    I believe heat and gas/chemicals are used to dissolve all the unwanted material. This requires additional equipment yes, quite expensive. There are companies that provide this as a service though if you are interested. 

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