Metal 3D Printing Materials

3D Printing with Metals

Metal 3D printing has been popularized over the course of the last decade, initially for prototype applications, and now increasingly for production applications.  Metal 3D Printing has been famously used in a collection of aerospace and medical applications, and now is increasingly deployed across industrial, automotive, energy, and consumer products industries.

Metal is processed by a variety of manufacturing processes offered by 3Diligent ProdEX.  

Powder Bed Fusion is one such process.  Within the Powder Bed Fusion process family are a collection of generic and branded processes.  Direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) is one of a number of additive-manufacturing services available from 3Diligent. Also known as direct metal laser melting (DMLM), both use a laser beam to melt metal powder dispersed as finely stacked layers. It is a process similar to polymer powder bed fusion. Similar to laser powder bed fusion is electron beam melting, which uses an electron beam to melt the powder rather than a laser.  With both options, resulting parts are dense and have sought-after mechanical properties one would expect from metal.  Further, like all 3D printing services, these powder bed fusion solutions are capable of creating complex parts with cavities and overhangs difficult or impossible using traditional or CNC machining processes.

Beyond powder bed fusion, ProdEX also offers metal 3D Printing technologies including binder jetting, material extrusion, directed energy deposition, and more.   

On this page, we will take a look at some of the most popular metal materials used in 3D printing: stainless steel, titanium, Inconel, nickel, and aluminum. For more information about these materials or to search for other materials, click here to use 3Depot, our material and equipment search tool.

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Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is an ideal solution when your project requires high resistance to corrosion, some chemicals, liquids, and foods.

 
Printing is done in a variety of stainless steel options – most commonly 316L, 17-4, and 15-5.

 

In certain circumstances, stainless steel will be replaced with inconel 625 or 718.  Whereas stainless steel is more readily processed by traditional machining and casting solutions, the additive nature of 3D Printing means that some of the need for machinability is diminished.   More on this in a second.

 

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3Diligent example processes: direct metal laser sintering
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Inconel

When choosing a 3D printing service from 3Diligent, Inconel can be a more cost effective material option than you might expect. Inconel, which is difficult to machine, is an ideal material for 3D printing of components with complex or intricate designs, especially when compared to traditional subtractive manufacturing services in the machining category. It can withstand very high temperatures (up to 700°C) and is corrosion-resistant.

Nickel

Both stainless steel and inconel are substantially nickel-based alloys. Nickel alloys typically have high-strength and excellent fatigue and thermal-fatigue properties combined with superior corrosion resistance. Some alloys in this class contain significant levels of iron, niobium, and molybdenum and lesser amounts of aluminum and titanium. Many are also highly suitable for welding applications and can be precipitation-hardened. 

Aluminum 

Aluminum is another commonly utilized material for 3D printing applications.  

Notably, a number of the aluminum alloys commonly used for casting or machining applications are not used in the sphere of 3D Printing.  So whereas 6061 and 7075 alloys are extremely common for many traditional applications, those alloys as composed for machining and casting applications aren’t readily printed.  Innovation is well underway on this front, with new alloys filling the void – delivering the performance characteristics of legacy alloys, but materially adapted to meet the rapid heating and cooling cycles common to additive manufacturing.  

Titanium

Titanium is a popular material for additive manufacturing applications.  It is commonly used in the powder bed fusion process.  Ti6Al4V (a.k.a. Grade 5 Titanium) is the common alloy used in metal 3D printing due to favorable mechanical properties. It is corrosion-resistant and can be used in demanding industries such as aeronautics, automotive, and industrial. It can be used to manufacture functional prototypes, solid end-use parts, medical devices, and spare parts.  Commercially pure titanium (Grades 1-4) and Titanium 64 ELI (Grade 23) are also commonly printed, although not with the same frequency as Ti6Al4V Grade 5.

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Terry Trumbull, VP of Electro-Mech Components, Aerospace Industry

We worked with 3Diligent on a urethane casting project. The breadth of materials and services they offered, including flame retardant and color options, made them a great partner on this program. We were very satisfied with the experience.

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