Metal 3D Printer Guide

The 3D metal printer is being hailed by experts as a potential game changer in the printing industry. Discover how these devices work, what you can do with it and what the future may hold for 3D printing.
When the word 3D printing is mentioned, people usually think of a machine that produces small, plastic knickknacks or trinkets. But with the development of the 3D metal printer, it is now possible for these devices to produce high quality, industrial ready applications for use in various fields. 

An Overview

3D printing devices have been available for a while, but the steep price kept them off the market and thus for limited use only. However, the cost of these printing devices has gone down so they’re now within reach. The technology has also improved so that even a basic 3D printer can produce quality output, and as technology evolves, the quality should reach even higher levels.

Before moving on, you need to understand what a 3D printer is. Basically it is an additive process that prints a 3D object based on a 3D model, so if you have a 3D printer, you just need to create an object in any supported 3D program and use the printer to print it out in three dimensions.

For more information about how these devices work, you can check out this guide from 3Dprintingindustry.com, but basically that’s how they function. That being said, a 3D printing metal handles processes in a specific manner.

How a 3D Metal Printing Machine Works

These devices use different technologies, but the newer ones possess a powerful laser that welds metal components to form the desired shape. Compared to most plastic 3D printing machines that extrude plastic threads to create an object, a metal printing machine places layers of metal powder on a build platform and utilizes the laser to melt it. Once the powder has been melted the machine can mold and weld it into different shapes.

This method is still new, but it holds a lot of potential and is more precise compared to plastic filament extrusion, and since it is metal it can be used in more practical ways. For many years now, printing in 3D metal has been something like the Holy Grail for manufacturers. Unlike other printable materials, metal allows companies to produce end-use objects that regular casting techniques cannot.

There’s no questioning the usefulness of 3D metal printing, as the aircraft industry have been relying on metal laser sintering equipment to manufacture parts. Not only are these printed metal components cheap, but they are also precise and save these companies a lot of money. The one drawback before was the cost, but even that has gone down to the point smaller companies can now own one.

As the price goes down and the technology improves, the market for 3D printing will increase. Already, Computer World is reporting that the 3D printing market in China is expected to quadruple in the next four years, and probably in other countries too.

Before, the consensus was that 3D printing technology would be confined to commercial and industrial applications, but that’s no longer the case as the general consumer market has emerged. While metal 3D printing machines may still mostly target industrial companies, there’s no questioning the demand among general consumers and hobbyists for 3D metal, and that it is growing.

A Closer Look at Printing Steel 3D

If you want to print metal and steel 3D models successfully, you’ll need to consider the following guidelines. First of all, the end product has to fit in the building platform dimensions. To avoid problems make sure the bounding box is inside the allowable limit, and if it not you should scale down the object.

In addition, these machines have a minimum size requirement, i.e., 3 x 3 x 3 mm. If you’re making a small 3D object, you’ll need to scale it to the minimum required by your metal 3D printer so it reproduces accurately.

Before building anything you’ll need to take a few other things into consideration, such as the durability of the object. Metal is strong, but during the early part of the printing process it will be brittle, sort of like wet sand. If you’re going to print a metal object, make sure the design is not too delicate or has a hanging structure.

At this stage in 3D printing technology, large hanging objects with no support will break. Another example would be printing a small figure with an outstretched arm, as that too will probably break. These limitations however, will be overcome as the technology advances.

Developments and Printing Considerations

The world of metal 3D printing is moving at a rapid pace, and the consensus among experts is that it can be used in many different fields. For the general consumer, a device capable of printing 3D metal objects can be a fun endeavor, but 3D printing in general can be used in practical ways as well. As this report from the Herald Sun shows, 3D printers can be used to make hands for impaired individuals.

Going back to printing 3D steel and metal though, one of the things you’ll need to get used to is the design guidelines. Yes you can model anything you want on a 3D modeling program, but as pointed out earlier you’ll need to avoid hanging objects as they’re susceptible to breaking. In addition you should make sure that the model has proper support, i.e., thin walls weaved with thick walls, or thin walls don’t make up a huge part of the object.

If you’re interested in buying 3D printer metal, it should be clear by now that research is necessary. The basic facts have been laid out here, but you still need to read reviews and keep abreast of the latest developments. And to make the most out of your printer you must be familiar with 3D modeling software. The good news is there are a lot of outstanding free 3D programs available so you can get started quickly.