Can Metal 3D Printing Technologies be Mature?

Metal 3D printing engulfs a broad range of technologies; each with its benefits and applications—as well as it is level of maturity. 

FREMONT, CA: While adopting a specific metal 3D printing technology for production, it’s crucial to understand where its capabilities and limitations currently lie. However, in terms of metal 3D printing, companies face the challenge of separating reality from the hype. In order to help companies assess the maturity of the critical metal 3D printing technologies more efficiently, it is essential to know about the “Technology Readiness Level” approach that is used in order to assess whether an emerging technology is preferable for space exploration.  

The TRL approach is adopted to assess the maturity of various 3D printing technologies. In order to identify a TRL for each metal 3D printing technology, its evolution must be analyzed, the industries adopting it, how it is being used today and the developments that are shaping its future. 

 Based on research, it is believed that the majority of metal 3D printing technologies have crossed TRL 7, which refers to testing in an operational environment for addressing performance issues and applications in functional prototyping and tooling. Few have also proved to be successful under normal operating conditions (TRL 8) and are headed towards integration into the broader manufacturing ecosystem (TRL 9). 

Selective Laser Melting

It is one of the most established metal 3D printing technologies. The SLM process involves selectively applying a robust, fine-tuned laser to a layer of metal powder. In this way, metal particles are fused layer by layer to create a part. 

Electron Beam Melting

Similar to SLM, electronic beam melting belongs to the powder bed fusion family of 3D printing technologies. The operations of EBM are identical to SLM in that the metal powders are also melted to create a fully dense metal part. 

Direct Energy Deposition

With its roots from welding processes, Direct Energy Deposition (DED) involves melting metal with a laser or an electron beam as because the material is pushed through a nozzle in a build platform. DED systems either use wire or powder as the feedstock.

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