To get the most out of the opportunities that 3D printing opens, you first need to get a clear idea of the technology, materials and design process. A flawless metal part printed on a 3D printer is always the result of an ideal interaction of these factors taking into account the scope of application. In some areas, 3D metal printing technology (selective laser melting) can bring real benefits, providing significant improvements in terms of performance, functionality, aesthetics or weight reduction.
The purpose of this article is to show, for the solution of which tasks and production of which products, 3D printing with metals is the most suitable.
1. Heat Absorbers
Heat exchangers are designed to dissipate heat, for example, heat generated by electronic and mechanical devices. The surface area significantly affects the performance of the heat sink, but usually the available space is rather limited. This means that maximizing the surface area within the available boundaries is a key problem.
The freedom of design, which offers 3D printing with metal, allows you to create subtle and complex geometric shapes and lattice structures that make optimum use of available space. Combined with the excellent thermal conductivity of aluminum used in 3D printing, this is the ideal solution for manufacturing heat sinks.
2. Spare parts
The demand for spare parts is usually unstable, and it is difficult to predict when and where specific details will be needed. Storage of spare parts on shelves is expensive – you need to store not only parts, but also tools. Thanks to additive production, it is possible to manufacture spare parts on site and as needed, avoiding stockpiling and transforming all supply channels.
To maximize the benefits of technology in terms of material, weight and functionality, it is recommended that you redesign. But the more companies will introduce additive production for the production of the first lots, the simpler will be the process of managing spare parts.
3. Structural components
Such areas as bionics and structural optimization demonstrate great potential for industrial application. The structures created as a result of topological optimization can have a very complex shape. Due to the freedom to change the geometry that 3D prints with metal, a complex shape can be realized with fewer restrictions or modifications related to the production process.
Given the excellent mechanical properties of the metal used in additive production, the structural components become lighter and require less material without compromising strength. This approach opens up great opportunities for designing structural components.
In the tool industry, the issue of cost reduction is particularly relevant. Controlling these costs can be realized in part by optimizing the productivity of the machine and by reducing waste. One solution is the use of conformal cooling. In the process of manufacturing tools using additive production, the most complicated cooling channels can be integrated close to the surface of the part. This results in optimization of the heat flow and saving of cooling time, which reduces the risk of deformation and improves the quality of the parts.
For details that are so complex that for their production by conventional methods, labor-intensive and expensive tools will be required, additive technologies can have undeniable advantages.
5. Medical devices
Mass customization can be stably implemented only through 3D printing, where design flexibility does not jeopardize economic efficiency. For this reason, the medical industry was one of the first industries to master additive production for the manufacture of individual devices, such as implants and personalized medical devices.
The biocompatibility of titanium used in 3D printing, combined with the ability to create complex structures, opened new possibilities for minimizing surgical intervention, stimulating bone ingrowth and increasing the patient’s mobility. At this level of adaptation to the individual requirements of the patient to the requirements of customers, 3D printing is the only technically feasible and cost-effective production method.
6. Food industry
Food production and processing companies often need custom-made parts. The creation of tools for the production of small series often leads to an increase in production costs. The cost of 3D printing, which does not depend on the volume of the lot, makes it possible to reduce costs.
In addition, the biocompatibility of titanium used in 3D printers allows it to have direct contact with products and liquids. In combination with the flexibility of design, this makes it possible to produce more functional and complex complex components used for fixing, feeding and storing food products. By increasing functionality, we can reduce the number of components, and this reduces the risk of downtime and the need for maintenance.
7. Fashion and design
Attracted by the possibility of creating unusual shapes and configurations – for reasons of both aesthetics and functionality – designers and artists have experimented with 3D printing from the early days of technology. As the metal seal becomes more accessible, new opportunities open for creating things that were previously unthinkable. Customized jewelry, glasses, designer objects and accessories can be made of materials and coatings, the range of which is constantly growing.
In this industry, where brands need to constantly update design to maintain their competitiveness, additive production will be the best choice due to the economical nature of small-scale production and the speed of production.
8. Industrial automation
Each industrial automation project has its own requirements, which involve the development of individual solutions. 3D printing solves this problem through the cost-effective production of small batches and unlimited design capabilities. Integrated integrated functionality allows grippers and clamping devices to use fewer components and less manual assembly. The optimization of volumes leads to the production of lighter and less expensive grippers, which allow the robots to function at the optimum speed.
The high strength and light weight of aluminum used in 3D printing makes it suitable for the development of reliable individual automation solutions, while stainless steel can be used where food safety conditions must be observed.
Picture Credit: MustangJoe