3D printing is quickly growing into a leading form of production. It can use various materials and precisely print objects with relative ease, but how strong is the metal used for 3D printing compared to metals made by traditional methods of production. How do 3D printed metals stack up against CNC production and casting?
3D printed metals vary in strength depending on what materials manufacturers use in production and who uses the machine. While 3D printed metals may be prone to cracking, 3D printers produce metals for uses in space travel, medical components, rocket engines, and jet turbos.
In this article, I will explore the types of metals used in 3D printing; I will compare the strengths of different metals that printers use, what size parts companies can make using a 3D printer, and what 3D printed material is strongest. Keep reading to learn more.
What Metals Can Be Used in 3D Printing?
Manufacturers craft different metals for different purposes in 3D printing. Here is a list of metals that people commonly use in 3D printing, according to GE Additive.
- Titanium/ Titanium alloys
- Stainless steel
- Aluminum/ Aluminum alloys
- Chrome cobalt alloys
- Nickel-based alloys
- Precious Metals
Companies use all of the metals listed above to produce products for varying functions. Experts design 3D printed materials to be used on everything from space travel to surgeries.
What Are the Pros and Cons of 3D Printed Metals?
Metals used by companies in 3D printing need to have different qualities so the metals can serve other functions. If you wonder what the benefits of using 3D printing for metals compared to traditional methods are, check out the table below.
|Reduced waste compared to CNC production||High costs of production|
|Consistent results||Slower production speeds|
|Effective for producing small, complex parts that are strong and lightweight||Fewer choices of material|
|Less aesthetically pleasing finish|
|Larger pieces can be difficult and expensive to produce|
Manufacturers often use 3D printed metals to produce small, intricate, lightweight, and robust materials. Experts use these materials to develop technologies and cutting-edge pieces.
3D printed metals produce far less waste when compared to other methods of production such as CNC. 3D printing metals will have as little as 5% waste, whereas CNC production will often exceed 80% waste of materials.
Another great benefit to 3D printing is the consistent results that you will receive. Once a company makes a piece, it can be replicated on demand identically time and time again.
The downside to choosing 3D printing to make metal objects is the high cost of production. 3D printers themselves are expensive, so are the winning prices of the printer and the cost of the materials used in 3D printing metals. This can make 3D printing metals unreadable for most people or businesses.
3D printing is a slower method of producing metals than casting or CNC production. As a result, 3D printing metals may not be suitable for large-scale mass production projects.
Another con of choosing 3D printing for metals is the fewer choices of metal available. Only certain metals are suitable for use in 3D printing, so depending on what the requirements for the product are, 3D printing may not be correct.
3D printers can produce metals that lack a quality and aesthetically pleasing finish. Often companies will use a CNC machine on 3D printed metal pieces to smooth out the finish.
The last drawback to choosing 3D printing for metals is the size. Your finished products can’t be larger than the printer itself. Therefore, you will need to purchase a large printer to produce large pieces.
What Size Metal Parts Can Be Produced Using a 3D Printer?
In most metal 3D printers available on the market, you will be able to print small to medium-sized metal parts. However, companies and research facilities own expensive metal 3D printers capable of printing large metal pieces.
NASA uses a metal 3D printer to produce large, specifically designed metal pieces that the space agency uses to build spacecraft and engines. Other companies also own large-scale 3D printers, but they are expensive and can only produce parts that fit within the printer.
The Sciaky EBAM 150, one of the largest 3D printers available, can build parts up to 3708 x 1575 x 1575 mm. (145.98 x 62 x 62 in).
EBAM uses a process like welding, where an electron beam is used to melt metal in wire form. This means the technology is well-suited to processing a wide range of weldable materials, from titanium to Inconel and stainless steel.
How Much Does a 3D Printer that Prints Metal Cost?
The cost of the 3D printer will vary depending on the size, quality and technology used. 3D printers that are capable of printing metal vary in price. You can find printers capable of printing metals for any expense, starting from $100,000 all the way up to $1,000,000+.
The high cost of 3D printers that print for metal often deters people from investing in one. However, as the 3D printer produces far less waste than alternatives, you can save a fortune in the long run on materials.
What Is the Strongest Material Used in 3D Printing?
The strongest material produced in 3D printing is PAHT CF15 or High-Temperature Polyamide carbon fiber reinforced. Manufacturers use PAHT CF15 to produce parts to replace metal components that experience high-stress environments and extreme temperatures.
Polycarbonate is the strongest 3D printing material that can be easily accessed and is compatible with desktop 3D printing. Polycarbonate has a tensile strength of 9,800 psi, which makes it ideal for use in high-strength components.
Companies also use polycarbonate to manufacture bulletproof glass, among other strong materials that are capable of withstanding enormous amounts of force on impact.
Manufacturers can create 3D printed metals with specific alterations so they suit particular purposes. As a result, experts are developing 3D-printed metals for medical instruments, spacecraft, and jet engines.
3D printed metals are strong, intricate, and lightweight. Less waste is produced using 3D printing, and manufacturers will receive consistent results. However, 3D printing is expensive, time-consuming, and limited for metals that companies can use.
Metals are not the only robust material that 3D printers can produce. Polycarbonate and high generate polyamide carbon fiber reinforced is also solid materials used by manufacturers to make durable and lightweight pieces.