Video: Can You Print Metal Parts with an FDM Process?
James Anderton posted on June 08, 2018 |

James Anderton: If you’re additively manufacturing in polymers, filament-based systems of course are the most popular way of moving the raw material into the machine. For metals, of course, you may more commonly think of powder-based systems. But what if you could additively manufacture metallic substances with a filament-based platform?  I’m with Blake Tiepel, president and cofounder of Essentium. Blake, I understand that with BASF (a very large, well-known company; one of the founders of the modern chemical industry) is that those folks, working with you, have found a way to actually make metal parts with a filament-based 3D printing system.

Blake Tiepel: Yeah, that's absolutely right. BASF globally launched in late 2017 the presence of their ultra fuse 316-L materials so what that means is a 316 stainless steel highly loaded with a polymer binder. So, what this material for example is able to do, is lay down a green part inside of a variety of extrusion printers, and then that green part can go through a catalytic debinding and a sintering process to provide a fully dense metal part. So, you can have extrusion additive metal parts, extrusion additive polymer parts and composite parts, all built on top of BASF chemistry and the global supply chain solutions that are built by BASF in Essentium together.

JA: Now the obvious question any production engineer is going to ask whenever we hear about a green part that must be sintered: How much does it shrink?

BT: This material is loaded over 80% with the metallic filler, so then you'll see about a nineteen percent shrinkage factor with that.

JA: Okay. So, is it simple, scaling-wise, to design your part for the shrinkage?

BT: There are a variety of design constraints, as you can imagine. It works really well with axis-symmetric parts and parts with uniform wall thicknesses. We're still learning about the true depth of the additive space and the application space for this material, but it's a powerful option that's widely available now for some today's most demanding users.

JA: Would you need a dedicated machine for the metal-based filament, or can I kind of switch back and forth between polymerics and metals?

BT: One of the most exciting things about the Ultrafuse metallic filament-based solutions is that you can run this material on the same printer as you run a polymer or a composite material. Since it's loaded with a polymer binder, its extrusion temperatures for example are in the mid 200 C range. You can actually access the green part printing on a wide variety of open platform machines which allows a lot of customer access.

JA: Essentium and BASF working on materials that let you run metals and polymers on the same additive manufacturing machine.

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