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Top 5 3D Metal Printer Brands

3D metal printing is considered the future of manufacturing. This Top 5 3D Metal Printer Brands article provides information on the major companies in this sector. Discover how 3D metal printing works, the benefits against traditional methods, and whether there is a 3D metal printer for home use.

3D Metal Printer Brands

The new age of manufacturing has arrived with the advent of the 3D metal printer. They are being touted as one of the most exciting innovations to enter the component and construction market, and rightly so.

The fast pace of technological advances in this area and the multitude of new companies entering the market can be confusing.

Currently, metal printing remains almost exclusively in the realms of large business. However, some companies are endeavoring to make it accessible for the home user too.

This article will explore the top 5 brands that are leading the metal printing revolution. I will also look at how this process works and explore some of the brands that can benefit the desktop customer.

What is 3D Metal Printing?

3D metal printing (sometimes called metal additive manufacturing) works on a very similar principle to the now commonplace plastic/polymer process. These plastic printing machines have become affordable for the home user, while to date, metal printing has not.

Working with either a CAD 3D model or AMF (Additive Manufacturing File) as a guide, these printers create three-dimensional objects through the process of layering.

Just as an inkjet printer delivers ink onto a page, a 3D metal printer does the same onto a powder bed to gradually build up the object under construction.

Traditional Method

This is where 3D metal printing is different from traditional methods. Most metal forming processes, such as milling, are subtractive. That is, they take material away to produce the final product.

For example, a simple metal cog is created from a larger block of metal which is then ground, cut and milled.

3D metal printing is additive, it basically starts as nothing and is built up layer by layer.

This all occurs within the confines of the 3D metal printer itself. Generally, it involves an enclosed box which contains gas to prevent the metal from oxidizing. A layer of powdered metal is deposited, bonded with a laser, and then repeated as the object is gradually created from the bottom upwards.

There are 3 main types of this process:

  • Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS)
  • Selective laser melting (SLM)
  • Selective laser sintering (SLS)
  • Direct energy deposition (DEDL).
  • What Are the Benefits of 3D Metal Printing?

    Although still somewhat in its infancy, 3D metal printing has already led to improvements in manufacturing quality and costs.

    Time and Labor Benefits

    If an object is made by a manufacturer every day, usually they will have a machine designed for that sole purpose. However, in many circumstances, a milling machine may be used which has the versatility of being able to make a variety of components.

    In this circumstance, switching between component building involves time and labor. Raw materials have to be added, a design uploaded and cutting and boring tools selected.

    With 3D metal printing, the only requirement is to set the new CAD program and start producing. There is no need to change tools or equipment.

    Weight Benefits

    If the metal object to be produced will be placed under stress (for example in a car or airplane) it makes sense to reinforce these specific areas with more metal. Conversely, in areas where there are no forces applied, the metal volume can be reduced.

    3D metal printing allows the user to determine exactly how much material to use in each area. This results in a more lightweight product such as the 3D printed bicycle by Renishaw.

    This would not be possible with traditional methods.

    Complexity Benefits

    A 3D metal printer builds layer by layer. This enables the object under construction to have much more internal complexity than creating from a single block of metal.

    Waste Benefits

    As I mentioned earlier, the main difference between 3D metal printing and traditional methods is that it is addictive as opposed to subtractive.

    The subtractive method leads to substantial waste. The material is removed to produce the final product, whereas metal printing does not.

    This means both environmental and cost benefits through 3D printing.

    The Top 5 3D Metal Printer Brands

    With the 3D additive manufacturing market now worth in excess of $3bn, it’s a growth market which will continue to increase. This will lead to more companies and investment entering the sector.

    As technology and processes improve, costs will reduce and eventually allow home consumers to take advantage of this exciting tool.

    Below are the top 5 3D Metal printer brands, including those who are attempting to make it accessible for the desktop user.

    Desktop Metal

    Started with venture capital investment back in 2015, Desktop Metal is working hard to bring 3D metal printing to a much wider audience.

    It was co-founded by the current CEO Ric Fulp and the original 3D printer inventor, Ely Sachs.

    Based in Massachusetts, and drawing on research from MIT, Desktop Metal has started a revolution in 3D metal printing. Their innovative new model, the Studio System, is aimed at in-house designers. Those who want a 3D metal printer that is suitable for a studio or office environment.

    They have achieved this through the following:

    • The printers are 10x cheaper than their competitors. This makes 3D metal printing available to the smaller business - not just large industry
    • The size of the machines has been reduced to allow access to an office. The printer can sit comfortably on a desk
    • Unusually they have abandoned the use of lasers to melt the metal powder. This enables the printers to be used safely in an office environment

    In Summary

    Desktop Metal are striving hard to ensure their printers are available for the masses, not just the high-end industry. They have to be applauded for being the first brand to try and attempt this transition.

    However, even their cheapest model will be out of range for the average consumer. But this is a company worth watching. It will surely only be time until they produce a 3D metal printer for home use.

    Digital Metal

    This Swedish company is also making groundbreaking waves in the world of 3D metal printing.

    Its pedigree is impressive. Digital Metal was formed as a subsidiary of the respected metal powder experts Höganäs, which boasts a turnover in excess of $1bn. This company is no small player, producing over half a million tons of metal powder per annum.

    Innovation

    Their extensive expertise in the raw material has led them to develop their innovative 3D printers. They literally break the traditional mold. Digital Metals’ motto is ‘small is the new big’ and this is reflected in their products.

    They have created 3D printers which use binder jetting (instead of lasers) to create incredibly small objects. This is combined with intricate detail, which to date no other brand has accomplished.

    Digital Metal’s flagship printer is the DM P250 which is capable of creating layers of just 42 µm with 35 µm resolution. This high level of detail allows the machine to be perfect for jewelry, medical and aerospace industries.

    The Digital Metal Brand has a strong support structure too. Customers of their products are invited to spend 2-4 weeks at their company headquarters to receive training. This is tailored for each individual client, depending on their printing requirements.

    In Summary

    Digital Media brings the backing of its mother-company together with innovation to produce machines that lead the world in small metal printing.

    By steering away from producing large components, they have created a niche in which they can prosper.

    Markforged

    The Markforged brand was founded by Greg Mark in February 2013. With its base in Las Vegas, this company has continued to make incredible innovations within a very short time.

    The vision behind Markforged is to create 3D prints which have the durability and strength of traditional manufacturing processes combined with the cost-effectiveness and speed of 3D printing.

    Back in 2014, Markforged released the Mark One, backed by inspired cloud-based software. This allowed users to print remotely to their printers from anywhere in the world.

    The Metal X

    This machine was followed by the Mark Two and then their most famous product, the Metal X.

    The Metal X uses Markforged’s patented printing method ADAM (Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing). This process was developed as some current 3D metal printing can have weaknesses where one layer meets another.

    The ADAM method involves metal crystals growing between the printed layers. This allows for greater strength for the final product.

    In Summary

    Markforged continues to innovate, not only through its 3D printers but also the raw material building process. However, these machines are purely for industry and will be out of reach of the small to medium business owner.

    Iro3d

    This company, based in Seattle, is trying to make home 3D metal printing affordable for the very first time.

    With most 3D printers being in the high thousand dollar area, iro3d are producing models that, although much more expensive than a traditional 3D printer, are within the budgets of most consumers.

    Currently, their machines can only produce carbon steel objects, although they are looking to expand its capacity to other metals in the future.

    The manufacturing process behind iro3d’s printers is simple. The software indicates to the printer which powders to pick up and then deposit in a crucible. When printing is complete, the crucible is placed in a kiln at 1250 degrees centigrade and fired for around three hours.

    This means that this 3D metal printer will not create a solid object immediately.

    In Summary

    This is a brand still in its infancy. Iro3d is included in this top 5 list as they are attempting to make 3D metal printing available to all.

    It’s unclear whether this ingenious method of home metal printing will prove popular. Maybe the larger brands will produce superior products in the near future to surpass it. But they have to be praised for trying.

    Airwolf 3D

    This California based company was founded in 2012 by its current CEO Erick Wolf.

    In addition to 3D metal printer, they produce traditional plastic polymer machines, filaments, and other consumables.

    Airwolf 3D has made the top 5 brands for the groundbreaking EVO Additive Manufacturing Centre.

    This printer is an all-around machine capable of producing objects out of 40 different materials. This includes metal, carbon fiber, polycarbonate, and nylon. There are few machines on the market which have this versatility.

    Airwolf has also created proprietary technology to enhance the production quality of their printers: Tri-Heat means strong and smooth engineering quality builds, PartSave enables you to pause the production process at any time.

    In addition, products under the Airwolf 3D brand are affordable for the medium-sized business.

    In Summary

    Airwolf 3Ds strength in the 3D printer market is further enhanced by its versatile EVO machine. Although some may see it as being a compromise against more specialized printers.

    Home Alternatives to a 3D Metal Printer

    Obtaining a 3D metal printer for the home is difficult. They are bulky, involve high temperatures and have a very large price tag attached.

    If however you already own a plastic 3D printer, it can be used for printing in metal to some degree.

    There are plastic filaments available which include a small volume of metal additives. Objects produced by your 3D printer will have the look of metal but are able to be formed at the low temperatures of a plastic printer.

    In this scenario, it is worth investing in a high-quality printing nozzle. Plastic/metal filaments are quite harsh on this important component.

    Final Thoughts

    Over the coming years, the number of brands entering the 3D metal printing market will increase. Hopefully, this will result in these printers becoming cheaper and available for home or small office use.

    This Top 5 Metal Printer Brands list represents the strongest and/or most innovative brands today. From the industrial power of Markforged through to the small component manufacturer of Digital Metal.

    As most of these brands are catering to slightly different markets, it is difficult to name one in particular as ‘the best’.

    However, Desktop Metal is my favored brand. Their attempt to bring genuine industry quality to the mass market is admirable. By reducing the size of the machines, using proprietary technology to reduce heat and cutting the price tag has to be admired.

    They may not be the best, but they are one of the most exciting. Definitely, one to watch in the future.

    Featured Image via Amazon logo, text and banner added

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