Despite coming to market much later than its polymer counterparts, metal 3D printing is only slightly behind when it comes to production applications. The market for production metal 3D printing is real, and it’s evolving quickly.
These metal parts were printed on 3DEO’s industrial additive manufacturing system. The parts are 17-4PH stainless steel. These are directly out of the machine with no post-processing. The largest is about 2 inches in diameter. (Image source: 3DEO)
Based in Gardena, Calif., 3DEO has developed an automated system for producing 3D metal parts that is beginning to make additive manufacturing an attractive alternative to traditional metal manufacturing processes. “We invented our own metal AM process because everything else on the market -- laser sintering and binder jetting -- is too expensive for all but the most exotic applications.,” Matt Sand, president of 3D print service company 3DEO, told Design News. “We can make parts that compete with CNC machining and injection molding.”
Sand will present the session, Metal 3D Printing: Trends & Emerging Tech, at the Atlantic Design and Manufacturing Show in New York City on June 14. He will also speak as part of the panel, Using Additive Manufacturing to Process Novel Materials & Improve Product Performance, on June 12.
The Growth of Metal Additive Manufacturing
3DEO 3D prints complex parts with industrial-grade materials. It’s a patented additive manufacturing process in which a liquid binding agent is "sprayed" to join metal powder particles. Layers of material are then bonded to form a metal object. The part develops through the layering of powder and binder.
Sand noted that 3DEO has improved the efficiency of Intelligent Layering by bringing in software. “One big piece of the puzzle is software. The process has become very software intensive, and that’s a big part of why it’s competitive. Through automation, we can compete with the price of a part produced in the thousands or tens of thousands,” said Sand. “In the future, it will be in the hundreds of thousands. Our machines can do one to three thousand pieces per day depending on the size of the part. Our factory can house 50 machines, so we could do 50,000 parts per day.”
Other factors that improve the viability of metal-based additive manufacturing include the lower-cost materials and simple hype. “Materials development is part of the story. A lot of competitors are entering the market and selling materials. A whole supply chain has formed, and that drives the cost down,” said Sand. “Another piece is the media hype. That drives interest from the c-suite, and that interest drives the push for new solutions.”
A Dose of Skepticism
Another argument for the viability of additive manufacturing is the reduction of inventory, as parts can be produced on a demand basis. Sand noted that’s not a great argument. “We’re not yet at the point where the numbers on inventory pan out. That’s more of a promise,” said Sand. “Yet that promise is huge from a lean manufacturing perspective. Additive manufacturing eliminates the need to hold inventory. But it’s a long-term promise.”
Sand expects much of the demand for metal-based additive manufacturing to remain in its core markets of aerospace and medical. “Most of these technologies are still far from viable except in aerospace. Economic viability is not really here today,” said Sand. “There are two approaches. One is: Let’s get the excitement going! The other one is: Let’s give it a dose of reality. It may be that less than 1% of the manufactured parts are eligible for this type of manufacturing technology.”
Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years, he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.
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