6 Things You Might Not Know about Making Metal Parts through Additive Manufacturing

Like any other manufacturing process, additive manufacturing has process considerations all its own.

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Let go of the notion of simply “printing” a part. That is, let go of the notion that you can just press a button and the part will be created—additive manufacturing is not like that. Instead, AM is a process with important process considerations all its own. Particularly where metal parts are concerned, these considerations need to be understood in order to realize the benefits that AM can deliver.

I recently spoke about this with AM researchers at Penn State University’s CIMP-3D facility. Find a detailed article at the link below. Here are important points worth knowing if you are considering AM for metal part production:

  1. New design tools might be needed. Metal parts being made today were designed for casting, forging and/or machining. Additive manufacturing opens the way to complex, mathematically streamlined component forms that a CAD designer’s typical tools would not be able to create. Software for topology optimization becomes important.
  2. There is still plenty of scrap. Support structures are part of the engineering of an additive build. These structures (see photo) consume not only a share of material, but also perhaps a large share of the cycle time for the part.
  3. Orientation has an impact. Do you build a given part so that it lies on its side? Sticks up vertically? Leans at a 45-degree angle? This decision—how to orient the part for its AM build—has a significant effect on part accuracy, cycle time and where the support structure is needed.
  4. Residual stress is the hidden challenge. Internal forces can deform an additive part as layers are added and the part cools. Sometimes, trial-and-error is needed to find the process for a given part that will overcome this effect.
  5. Material changes with use. Some particles melt before others. As a result, powder left over from a build has slightly different particle distribution from the powder that began it, and thus different properties. AM powder changes over time to a much greater extent than other manufacturing material stock.
  6. Your new lightweight metal might be titanium. Titanium alloys are well-understood in additive manufacturing and therefore easy to apply. This tends to make titanium the AM metal of choice. Indeed, because of its high strength-to-weight ratio, a part redesigned for weight savings through AM might be lighter in titanium than it was when it had been a thick, solid part in aluminum that was designed for a more conventional process.

Read more detail about all of the points above.  

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