VIDEO: How Additive Manufacturing Can Produce Metal Parts en Masse
James Anderton posted on June 06, 2017 |

Despite the optimistic outlook and some notable success stories, most manufacturers are not yet using metal additive manufacturing for mass production. This is primarily because the machinery and materials are expensive and production is still relatively slow.

In the video above, we look at how 3D printer developers like Desktop Metal are advancing additive manufacturing technology to make mass production possible.

“Additive manufacturing of metals has seen pretty amazing advancement over the last 10 years, but has never delivered on its promise; all you can do right now is prototype parts,” said Jonah Myerberg, CTO at Desktop Metal.

“However, we developed our first printer to additively manufacture metal injection molding feedstock, so after printing, you can move to our production machine and mass produce it at very high volumes with the same cost-competitive model you can with injection molding.”

Commodity part manufacturers, like those in the automotive industry, could certainly benefit from making more parts per print. Desktop Metal is following this cue with printers and production machines capable of creating a greater number of smaller parts or larger single parts.

However, the company isn’t using standard FDM printing techniques to up their production.

“Laser-based additive manufacturing of metal powder is not refined enough to just copy, paste, et cetera,” Myerberg explained.

“What we’re doing, is taking a much higher, faster process. It’s a powder bed with a binder system we call ‘inkjet-press’ technology. It’s the same technology used in very high speed 2D printing, but with a powder bed, moving back and forth at very high speeds. We can fill our furnaces with parts in a matter of hours, where it would take days to produce single builds with laser bed fusion.”

“When a part is printed in situ and supported in the furnace as a single part, your geometry and shrinkages are well maintained,” Myerberg continued.

Parts can be printed layer by layer for thinner yet stronger walls, with lattice structures and strong skins. This also speeds up the de-binding process and maximizes strength to weight ratios versus metal injection molding or powder metal sintering  and pressing.

Desktop Metal’s machines come in with work envelopes ranging from 8x12x8 sq in to 14x14x14 sq in.

“We wanted to start somewhere we could make reasonably sized parts, but eventually, you could see this getting much larger to the point where it’s possible to print a car chassis,” Myerberg said. “Right now, we’re starting with small, functional parts in about the 1 sqft envelope.”

For more information, visit the Desktop Metals website.

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