The 3D Systems sPro 250 pictured above is able to produce highly-detailed and complex metal parts like that Terminator-like jaw. Objects are produced by fusing a bed of powdered metals with a laser one layer at a time, with the layers being as thin as 20 microns. Available metals include Titanium, Stainless Steel, Cobalt Chrome, and Tool Steel, so possible applications range from aeronautics to super efficient heat sinks with cooling chambers printed right in.
The EOSINT M 280 works a lot like the sPro. The M 270 is demonstrated in the video above and gives an impressive show of the process. The M 280 can print in Aluminum, Cobalt Chrome, Titanium, Nickel Alloy, and Steel.
The Arcam Q10 and A2 also use a similar process as the previously listed printers, but the MultiBeam technology allows for multiple melt pools, which greatly increases build speed. The build volumes are also larger.
The ExOne method of 3D printing is a bit more involved, but the results are comparable. After printing and curing, the steel/bronze objects are “infiltrated,” where metal is forced into the open pores, thus bringing the density up to 95%. They can then be plated with gold, damascus patterning, and more.
The Optomec LENS 850R is unique among the metal printers in that it melts streams of powdered metal much like a fused deposition modeling process. The method can be used to repair and add on to existing objects too, greatly expanding its applicability. Available materials include Stainless Steel, Inconel, and Titanium.
The Shapeways method of metal printing involves applying glue onto layers of steel powder. The object is then infused with bronze and polished in a variety of finishes, including gold.
Metal 3D printing has a wide array of application, from fighter jet components to medical implants and tool jigs. Companies that pursue metal printing will reap the benefits from industries that require small batches and single runs of working prototypes and end-use parts. It will be a good day when these patents expire and makers can get metal printers in their homes.
Six 3D printers that are so metal
by Cameron Naramore