The current state of metal 3D printing technology
When it comes to the types of metal 3D printing technology, we can know that there are SLM(Selective Laser Melting)、DED(Directed Energy Deposition)、Binder Jetting metal 3D printing、NPJ(NanoParticle Jetting) and so on.
Let us talk about the differences among those technologies.
1) Powder Bed Fusing (PBF) includes SLM(Selective Laser Melting) and EBM(electron beam melting), which are the current mainstream 3D printing technology.
2) Directed Energy Deposition (DED) is typically used for producing relatively large structural components, repairing of high quality functional parts or adding additional material to existing objects. I think it is more appropriate to be classified into the field of welding.
3) The indirect solidified 3D printing technology based on binder jetting includes BJ, Metal FDM and etc., which has matured significantly in recent years.
4) NPJ technology is invented by Xjet in Israel. It is very popular in the past few years. But it seems that the commercialization is very limited, I think maybe it is because the price is very expensive.
We can summarize based on above comparisons:
1) SLM: The speed is very slow, the price is very high and it is very troublesome to remove the supporting structure.
2) EBM: The speed is very fast, but the accuracy is relatively low.
3) NPJ: It is an expensive technology, both for equipment and material.
So these technologies are very difficult to compete with traditional manufacturing. Mostly they are just used to produce some very complex parts which are impossible to produce in traditional ways.
The material and post processing method of metal 3D printing between Metal FDM and MIM are almost the same . Due to the debinding restrictions, it means that this technology can only be used to produce very small parts.
In my opinion, this technology should be a complement to MIM operations. It can be used to prepare sampling before running mass production, or it can be used for short-run production. Since Metal FDM technology can share the debinding furnace with MIM, MIM enterprises requires no additional furnaces.
Although the Metal FDM technology has just been commercialized, I am convinced that every MIM enterprise will equip with this machine. Of course, this does require a balance between accuracy and speed, since higher speeds equal a lower level of accuracy.
But the metal binder jetting 3D printing technology is remarkably characterized as fast speed and low cost, which can be used to produce metal parts by ordinary manufacturing factories. Currently, it is sort of at the beginning, almost at the stage of matching the application scenarios, I mean explore more application scenarios across various industries by adjusting the process.
The price of metal 3D printed parts
At present, the service market of metal 3D printing parts almost adopts SLM technology, and a small amount of DED technology is used. The unit price of metal 3D printed parts for stainless steel is generally above 2 yuan/gram. This is because the materials and equipment themselves are very expensive, the parts usually need post-heat treatment and it is troublesome to remove the supporting structure. What's more, the printing speed is very slow and time-consuming, the equipment is occupied for a long time, so the cost is very high.
In the traditional manufacturing process , there are two key factors to affect the price.First it is the complexity of the processing; Second, it is the length of manufacturing time.For example, some complex parts need a five-axis CNC to be produced.The processing time determines the price, the material consumption accounted for a very small proportion. So the price is not going to be calculated in grams.
Binder jetting technology allows metal 3D printed parts to be sold by the kilogram
Among all the metal 3D printing technology, binder jetting is the most promising one.At the end of March 2021, as the leader of China's binder injection metal 3D printing technology, EasyMFG announced the open of software and control card of metal 3D printing technology to the public, hoping more people will be involved in the process.
Binder jetting technology adopts the array-typed nozzles.
By slicing a 3D CAD model into 2D images, an inkjet print head moves across a bed of metal powder, selectively depositing a liquid binding material, building the final part layer by layer, cured, and then sintered in a high temperature furnace to get high density parts.
The speed is very fast, and the cost is very low. It requires no supporting material. It has several advantages:
1) The machine is relatively cheap (usually 1/5 of SLM machine of the same build size);
2) Since the material has no strict requirements on particle size and shape, the price of the material is relatively low;
3) 3D printing speed is very fast, the printing time for each layer can be as low as a few seconds, and the size of the parts which accounted in build chamber has no much influence on the printing speed, so it is suitable to print multiple parts together.
Metal 3D printed parts can now be sold by the kilogram. Selling by kilogram means two things.
First, it means the price is cheaper.
Second, it means that the weight of the material largely determines the cost of the part, whereas the geometry of the part and the complexity of the process have no effect on the price. Binder jetting metal 3D printing technology can accord with these two points.
For EasyMFG, in the early stage we don't provide 3D printing services because we have no enough energy. We need to focus on matching more application scenarios and expanding more 3D printed materials.
Every day we do much systematic experiments, but 3D printing service needs more careful management.
We don't want to affect the progress of research and development by providing this service, so in the early stage we don't provide this service.
But after much consideration and discussion in 2021, we decide to set up a team specialized in parts 3D printing service to develop the business in this regard at an very appropriate time.
The initial pricing is RMB300/kg for stainless steel parts, which can be reduced to RMB100/kg in the future when it could be widely used.
The impact of innovative metal 3D printing technology on manufacturing industry
We have always believed that binder jetting metal 3D printer should benchmark itself against the traditional manufacturing industry such as CNC, rather than SLM ( Selective Laser Melting).
In terms of speed and cost, there is no comparison between SLM( Selective Laser Melting) and BJ (Binder Jetting). BJ can be a technology which accounts for very big proportion in the whole metal processing sector and can compete with traditional CNC machining.
CNC machining has advantage in terms of processing very simple and accurate parts; But if processing very complex parts, BJ is faster and cheaper.
In my opinion, in the future, parts with high precision and simple geometry will be processed by CNC, parts with complex geometry will be processed by BJ metal 3D printing, and huge parts will be processed by casting combined with CNC.
In this case, 3D printing technology will occupy a place in the manufacturing industry, and personal factory will be possible.
The main work that EasyMFG is doing now is to expand the material and match different application scenarios across different industries.
We have been firmly convinced that 3D printing is a new image of numerical control machine tools which should be widely used in manufacturing industry as a very crucial part at the core.We are aimed at to make manufacturing easier and easier.