How Will Aluminum Drive the Future of Metal Powder Bed Fusion Additive Manufacturing?

Aluminum is an affordable material offering adequate performance while leading the shift towards more massive batch production of mass goods.

Fremont, CA: Additive manufacturing (AM) is a process that makes an object from 3D model data by adding materials layer by layer. AM is shifting the way organizations design and manufacture products. It is a transforming approach to industrial production that can bring digital flexibility and efficiency to manufacturing operations. AM uses computer-aided-design (CAD) software or 3D object scanners to direct hardware to deposit material, layer upon layer, in precise geometric shapes, and develop an object. The layering material can be thermoplastics, metal powder, ceramics, glass composites, and even edibles like chocolate. There are seven different AM processes—Material Extrusion, Direct Energy Deposition, Material Jetting, Binder Jetting, Sheet Lamination, Vat Polymerization, and Powder Bed Fusion.

 Of all the above, Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) technology is used in a variety of AM processes. It includes direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), selective heat sintering (SHS), selective laser sintering (SLS),  electron beam melting (EBM), and direct metal laser melting (DMLM). In these systems, either laser, heat or electron beam is used to melt ultra-fine layers of materials and fuse the material together to form a three-dimensional object. The excess powder is blasted away from the object. A wide variety of metals and their alloys are used in additive manufacturing, including precious metals like gold and silver and strategic metals like stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum.

Aluminum alloys are the essential materials used in AM technologies for their low density rendering the property to create complex geometries that can be used for several applications in aerospace and automotive fields. Al alloys have gained much interest in recent years, mainly due to their peculiar microstructure and enhanced mechanical properties that are possible to achieve.

Thus, powder bed fusion and aluminum may be strongly connected well into the future as a significant opportunity with benefits and capabilities that no other manufacturing technology can afford.

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