3D Printing Metal: The Advantages of Direct Metal Laser Sintering

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Did you know that metal parts can be 3D printed? It happens via a process called Digital Metal Laser Sintering or DMLS. DMLS is a form of additive manufacturing that uses metal powders and precision lasers to create the desired part. The technology operates on the basis of a 3D CAD file which specifies how complex a design should be.

So, how exactly does DMLS printing work? What happens is this: a thin layer of metal powder is evenly distributed across the bed of the printer. By following a CAD file, a precision laser sinters (heats and fuses) the metal powder particles to replicate the specified design. This process is repeated with additional layers of metal powder until the desired shape and size is achieved. In essence, parts are produced one metal cross section at a time.

Now that you know how DMLS works, let’s have a look at some of its advantages:

  • Streamlined Production. By using DMLS, manufacturers can eliminate several steps in the production process. For example, DMLS is a form of 3D printing which means that production is started and completed with one machine at one station. This significantly reduces lead time. DMLS also allows for the integration of more than one component during production. So, fasteners and mountings can be integrated without the need for assembly.
  • End-Product Accuracy. Thanks to the accuracy of precision lasers, manufacturers can confidently rely on DMLS technology to create complex parts. These  lasers ensure that each cut perfectly matches the CAD design. One thing to keep in mind though is that precision lasers make raw cuts, so post-production finishing may be necessary.
  • Freedom of Design. In traditional metal fabrication, certain machines and processes can put limitations on design. With DMLS, however, there are very few manufacturing limitations to worry about. So long as a manufacturer can dream up a viable CAD design, DMLS should be able to produce it with few hitches.
  • Strong and Functional. DMLS parts are often characterized by their strength. These parts–which can be made from inconel, aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium–are just as durable as traditionally manufactured parts. They’re also characterized by their functionality.  DMLS parts can, in fact, be used in real-world applications like tooling, fixtures, bracketing, and jigs and are suitable for high stress environments.

All in all, DMLS printing is proving to be a sufficient way to produce metal parts. But that doesn’t mean it’ll sweep metal fabrication under the rug completely. The reality is that, as of right now, DMLS is only suitable for making small pieces. So, if larger parts are necessary, you’ll need to rely on the tried and true methods of traditional metal fabrication.

 

Image Credit: fdecomite

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