Why is the Demand for Metal Additive Manufacturing on the Rise?

Metal additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, enables complex components without the design limits associated with conventional manufacturing processes.

FREMONT, CA: Until recently, the user was primarily concerned with the outside geometry of a part and its function and strength, but Additive Manufacturing (AM) enables the integration of extra functionalities and new fields of application for technical parts.

One application of AM technology's ability to incorporate functionality directly into parts is creating molds or tools with conformal temperature control or vacuum channels running now beneath the die's surface. This case study describes an extrusion tool with this feature. No other technique may be used to create the cooling channels with this tool.

Another example of how additive manufacturing can integrate functionality is in pieces with repeating internal patterns that expand inner surfaces for improved energy or mass exchange in heat recovery or filtration devices. Above are some examples of unit cells for 3D tessellation. These structures enable complete filling of the area, if necessary while allowing for unrestricted part density design.

Complex interior structures can be integrated with various geometric elements as outside shells to maximize the potential of metal AM processes. Distinguishing parts into the shell and core volumes provide novel solutions for lightweight components that require a dense shell and a porous core and components with internal functioning. Both pieces were manufactured in a single production step, resulting in significant weight and energy savings during processing.

Additionally, the design process can integrate topological optimization software to establish the material's logical location. Material is removed from low-stress areas until a load-bearing design is finalized. As a result, the component is both lightweight and robust. This procedure was used on the components of the bike frame depicted above. The optimized design and use of titanium alloy resulted in a 33 percent weight savings over the original.

Due to the limited building envelopes of AM systems, substantial structural elements cannot be produced with AM. The unique build space accessible in commercially available AM equipment is roughly 630 x 400 x 500 mm; however, AM technologies are constantly being developed, and building space in all systems will undoubtedly continue to rise.