krzysztof-m (CC0), Pixabay

This is a guest contribution by Vasilii Kiselev, Founder, and CEO at Top3DGroup

To get the most out of the possibilities of 3D printing, it’s important to fully understand the technology, materials, and manufacturing process. A flawless 3D printed metal part is always a result of the perfect interaction of those factors in accordance with the field of application. In some cases, metal 3D printing (selective laser melting) can be really useful, providing significant improvements in performance, functionality, aesthetic properties, or lowering the weight.

This article aims to show the cases and tasks where metal 3D printing would be the best solution.

Поглотитель тепла, напечатанный на 3D-принтере

Aluminum heat sink for a manufacturing enterprise

1. Heat Sinks

Heat exchangers have the purpose of heat distribution. Such heat can be produced by electronic or mechanical devices. The surface area plays the role in the resulting performance of a heat sink but usually, the space is limited. This means that maximizing the surface area without crossing the limits is a key factor.

The freedom of design that is offered by metal 3D printing allows for producing thin and complex geometrical shapes as well as porous structures that optimally utilize available space. Together with the good thermal conductivity of aluminum that is used in 3D printing, it’s a perfect solution for heat sink production.

Пример 3D-печати металлами: алюминиевый охладитель

Aluminum heat sink with inner channels

2. Spare Parts

The demand for spare parts is not consistent, and it’s difficult to predict when and where the parts will be needed. Storing them is expensive since it also means keeping the tools. Thanks to additive manufacturing, producing the parts on-site and as needed, avoiding storing too many parts, and transforming the supply changes.

To get the most out of 3D printing regarding material usage, weight, and functionality, it’s recommended to change the way the company handles. But the more companies will use additive manufacturing, the easier it would be to organize the logistics of providing spare parts.

Применение 3D-принтера по металлу в автомобилестроении

Installing a suspension wishbone to the InMotion race car.

3. Structural Components

The fields such as bionics and structural optimization demonstrate the huge potential for industrial application. The structures that were produced as a result of a topological optimization, can feature very complex shapes. Thanks to the versatility of changing geometry using metal 3D printing, complex shapes can be realized with fewer limits and revisions related to the production process.

Taking into consideration the good mechanical properties of metal used in additive manufacturing, structural components can become lighter and will require less material without compromising on strength. This approach opens bigger possibilities for designing structural components.

Металлическая 3D-печать оптимизирует системы охлаждения

An aluminum device with cooling channels

4. Tools

In the tool industry, the problem of cutting costs is a pressing issue. Controlling the costs can be partially realized through optimization of machine’s performance and reducing the waste. Using conformal cooling would be one of the solutions. During the tool production using the additive manufacturing means, complex cooling channels can be placed close to the surface of a part. This will optimize the heat flow and save the cooling time, which reduces the chances of deformation and improves the quality of the parts.

Additive manufacturing can offer undeniable advantages over traditional methods in cases when the latter would require expensive tools and a lot of labor for complex parts production.

3D-принтер в медицине

Custom-made titanium hip prosthetic implant

5. Medical Devices

Mass customization can be only realized with the help of 3D printing since the flexibility of the design solution doesn’t compromise cost efficiency in this case. This is why the medical industry was among the first fields to utilize additive manufacturing for the production of individual things such as implants and medical devices.

The biocompatibility of titanium used in 3D printing in conjunction with the ability to produce complex structures opened a door to the new possibilities of bone growth stimulation, minimizing surgical intervention and increasing a patient’s mobility. At this level of adaptation to individual patient requirements and client’s needs, 3D printing is the only technically possible and cost-efficient manufacturing solution.

Форсунка со сложными внутренними каналами, созданная на 3D-принтере

Titanium nozzle with complex inner channels

6. Food Production

Food production and recycling companies often need custom-ordered parts. The tools required for small-batch manufacturing often lead to increased costs. 3D printing costs don’t depend on the size of a batch, so additive manufacturing can help to save money.

The biocompatibility of titanium used in 3D printers makes it possible for it to have direct contact with food and liquids. With the added advantage of design flexibility, it allows for the production of more functional and complex components used for fixation, delivery, and storage of foodstuff. Improving functionality can reduce the number of components which in turn will reduce the risks of downtime and the need for maintenance.

Аддитивные технологии в дизайне обуви

Light footwear and a titanium heel by Scherf Design

7. Fashion and Design

The opportunity to create unusual forms and configurations attracts designers and artists who started experimenting with the technology in its early days’ thanks to their interests in aesthetics and functional possibilities. Since metal 3D printing is becoming more affordable, there are new possibilities to produce things that were unimaginable before. Custom jewelry, glasses, designer things, and accessories can be produced using various materials and surfaces, the number of which is constantly growing.

In this field where the brands need to constantly update the designs of their production due to competition, additive manufacturing will be an optimal choice thanks to its cost efficiency for small-batch production and the speed of manufacturing.

Трехмерная печать позволяет снизить вес детали

Weight-optimized aluminum pneumatic grip

8. Industrial Automation

Each industrial automation project has its own requirements that involve the development of individual solutions. 3D printing solves this issue with its cost-efficient for small-batch production and having nearly infinite design abilities. Complex integrated functionality allows pneumatic grips and clamps to use fewer components and less manual assembly. Optimization means producing more lightweight and less expensive grips that will allow the robots to function at an optimal speed.

The high density and small weight of aluminum used in 3D printing make it a good choice for the development of reliable individual automation solutions, while stainless steel can be utilized in cases when it’s needed to conform to the product safety requirements.