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Sparking Change? Advances in Direct Metal Printing


The 3-D printing of metal components remains a developing manufacturing process, but it has the potential to significantly impact the metalcasting industry. NICHOLAS LEIDER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR


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-D printing, as just about every business and tech publication has boasted in recent months, is a disrup-


tive technology that has experienced remarkable growth in the last five years. Experts estimate additive manu- facturing has been and will continue to expand by as much as 30% annu- ally. Metalcasters have already seen the impact of 3-D printing in the production of patterns for investment castings and sand cores and molds—a process that can shave weeks off lead times and reduce costs related to prod- uct development. 3-D printing metal has lagged behind methods of printing other materials, but recent advancements have led to the technology being used


for prototyping and small-run produc- tion parts. With firms like GE, Airbus, Boeing and Ford Motor Co. pouring millions of dollars into direct metal printing, the technology appears to be primed for an increased presence among other traditional manufactur- ing capabilities, including metalcasting, especially as printing speeds improve and more materials are made available. “Te industry is moving from a


prototyping past to production future,” said Tim Caffrey, senior consultant for Wohlers Associates, a leading consult- ing group in additive manufacturing. “It’s in the process of growing up.” 3-D printing of metal, as it matures


and grows out of its infancy, is a technology that should be monitored by the metalcasting industry. Advance-


ments could impact metalcasters in a variety of ways. For one, the processes may develop into potential sources for tooling and dies. Direct metal printing also may become another viable option for rapid prototyping and small run components, becoming a new resource for metalcasters. Manufacturing experts will continue


to disagree on the potential impact of additive manufacturing and direct metal printing—some call it the next revolutionary technology, some dismiss it as a gimmick—but these processes appear en route to becoming feasible options for certain components. “Additive manufacturing used to be used primarily for prototyping, whether it be functional prototyping, visual aids and for patterns for metal castings or polyurethane plastic parts,” Caffrey said. “But in regards to metals, we’re seeing a real increase in uses for end-use parts, for direct part produc- tion. Tat application category has been growing very quickly.”


Metal Powder Bed Fusion By far the most common method


Direct metal laser sintering is a micro-welding process that binds powdered metal. 46 | MODERN CASTING May 2015


for printing metal parts involves directing a heat source onto a bed of powdered metal to fuse granules together. With so-called “metal pow- der bed fusion” techniques—also called laser melting, selective laser melting or direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)— a laser or other heat source binds the materials together in a micro-welding procedure according to a 3-D model that is sliced into thin layers.


Photo courtesy of EOS


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