Recently, we discussed the history and processes associated with Direct Metal Laser Sintering. Maturity in the technology of 3D printed metal, and Carl Dekard’s SLS patent expiration have spurred a new surge of research. I want to point out 3 reasons why you should get involved with this technology now…or really soon:

  • The Materials
  • The Innovation
  • The Ground Floor Opportunity

EOS Sintered Part in Metal Powder Residue

Stainless steel powder residue being removed from EOS DMLS “3D Printed” part (Courtesy of Solid Concepts).

Reason 1: The Materials

In the last 8 years I have witnessed the expansion of materials being offered by SLS machine vendors. The following is the list of metals that EOS machines are prepared to use commercially:

  • Aluminum AlSi10Mg – Light weight
  • CobaltChrome MP1 & SP2 – High heat and Strength
  • MaragingSteel MS1 – Hardness
  • NickelAlloy HX – High heat and strength
  • NickelAlloy IN625 & In718 (Inconel) – Moderately high strength and heat
  • StainlessSteel GP1 & PH1 – Corrosion resistant steel applications
  • Titanium Ti64 & Ti64ELI – High strength and light weight

These materials are robust and in some cases can take temperatures as high as 1200 °C. EOS’ thinner powder application has increased sintered densities to ~100% in almost all cases.

A materials comparison chart is available in our Engineering Notes section for your benefit, sourced directly from EOS and Solid Concepts.

Morris Technologies Swirler Printed from SLM

Morris Technologies’ combustor swirler (Courtesy of EOS GmbH)

Reason 2: Innovation

General Electric and NASA are spending a lot of money and time innovating the additive metal processes including DMLS, and how ‘3D printed’ parts can be used. GE made a brilliant move by acquiring not only the DMLS and EBM technologies in 2012, but also by purchasing Morris Technologies, one of the most experienced service providers.

“Our ability to develop state of the art manufacturing processes for emerging materials and complex design geometry is critical to our future”

Said Colleen Athans, vice president and general manager of the Supply Chain Division at GE Aviation in a press release.

To further reinforce the point about the fitness of the additive manufacturing of metals, I offer this statement, taken from one of GE’s Leap program announcements:

“Fuel nozzles additively manufactured from direct metal laser melting are 5X stronger that previous nozzles with 5X fewer brazes and welds”. Applications such as these will push engineers and manufacturers to be competitive by either developing better alternatives, or jumping headlong into additive manufacturing.

GE SLM Printed Fuel Nozzle

General Electric’s DMLS printed fuel nozzle (courtesy of GE)

Competition Breeds Innovation and Cost Reduction

Expanding adoption of this technology is spurring materials and machine technology improvements. The choice is becoming which tool fits my needs better instead of which tool is cheaper.

My discussions with Solid Concepts indicated that cost was tied to production speed, rather than mass. The cost of a 400 – 1000 Watt laser running adds up. Morris Technologies provided a comparison of DMLS and EBM wherein they compared EOS’ M270 and M280 DMLS machines with Arcam’s A2 EBM machine, and the run-time cost relationships thereof:

  • EBM and DMLS appear to be mostly tied to run-time
  • Newer A2 and M280 machine runtimes and costs were almost identical
  • Older M 270 was 2X slower at almost 2X cost.

Morris Tech’s paper is being mirrored on D&M Engineering Notes, as MorrisTech.com website is gone.

Additive Manufacturing Providers

The following list was compiled during my web based research, as well as discussions with vendors and service providers; it is by no means complete or exhaustive.

Machine Manufacturers

DMLS – Hands down EOS GmbH.

EBM – Arcam is the provider (and to the extent of my knowledge the originator) of the EBM technology. They hold multiple global patents on the process.

SLM – SLM Solutions is the lead dog in this industry, and seems to have been the initiator of the manufacturing solutions in this process.

Experienced Providers

Solid Concepts, a Stratasys company in Texas – SLS, DMLS, machining, molds, and more.

Their experience and assistance with information relating to the DMLS materials and high temperature applications was invaluable and is referenced in this article. Kent Firestone, a former project manager at DTM is the company’s Vice-President of Additive Manufacturing.

Solid Concepts 3D Printed Metal 1911 Gun Components

Solid Concepts manufactures world’s first functional ‘printed’ steel 1911 .45 caliber handgun.

Morris Technologies in Ohio – SLS, DMLS, & EBM

Note: Morris Technologies may be out of commercial business after the GE purchase

Directed MFG in Texas – SLS & DMLS

TurboCAM Aero in New Hampshire – DMLS and just about everything!

New Blood

After the recent expiration of the SLS patent in January of this year, various DMLS start-ups and initiatives have begun. People are bringing new ideas together to reduce the size and expense of the DMLS process, and bring the technology to the forefront and make it more accessible.

Reason 3: Ground Floor Opportunity

One of my favorite speakers, Simon Sinek discussed the “Law of Diffusion of Innovation”, where he noted “the early majority will not try something until someone has tried it first”; we all get that. If you listened to that discussion, you know he went on to define the gap that lies between those ‘early adopters’ that want to be on the cutting edge, and the ‘early majority’.

We stand in that gap right now.

The ‘Innovators’, people like Carl Deckard and companies like EOS, have laid the additive manufacturing of metal ground work. The ‘Early Adopters’, such as Morris Technologies and GE, have paved the way to successful adoption of the technologies.

Now it’s your turn.

Innovation and cost stabilization will increase alongside adoption. As the technology advances, new thoughts and applied sciences will evolve better processes, far beyond DMLS. The main factor driving adoption at this time will be light-weighting of components due to previously impossible part geometries. DMLS (and other additive processes) will be the way to go. Those companies that become entrenched (and more importantly, experienced) now will be the ones that engineers will turn to for expertise in the upcoming years.

As you move to invest in this process, whether as an end consumer of components or a service provider, it would be wise to develop a good relationship with a DMLS provider experienced in developing applications for your industry. Consider their advice before completing your designs or buying equipment, it will help you avoid many pitfalls and save you a lot of heartache.

Note: Beware of which machines a company is using. If they are using older machines, your bill might look similar to having a taxi driver taking the long way to your destination.

My Closing Thoughts

We believe that successes in design and manufacturing are provided through passion and imagination. Additive manufacturing is the next step in the evolution of metals manufacturing, and a very powerful one at that.

D&M Early Concept Combustor

Our R&D turbine and combustor’s upper target temperature is >1000 °C. DMLS’ high temperature Inconel and Cobalt have been essential in making the design possible, by providing a realistic safety margin as we work through the fluid dynamics involved in reducing those wall temperatures. (Early prototype of combustor at right is an example where additive manufacturing is the only method of production)

We can build components far closer to ideal design parameters than was ever possible before; and at reduced scales that are impossible to mill and turn. The other really cool and truly inspiring part of the equation, is so many components that needed to be manufactured separately and assembled, can now be ‘printed’ as a single unit. Cooling channels and fuel systems can be integrated in truly creative ways.

DMLS, SLS, EMB, and SLM are only the beginning. Now that certain patents have expired, we should see some incredible advancements in cost reduction and new ways to build safer, lighter, and cheaper components… without the waste we associate with manufacturing in the past.

If you want to be on the cutting edge of component engineering, and are looking for the opportunity, here’s your sign.

Pacific Thunder 2012 gets jump start at Osan

(Courtesy of SSgt. Sara Csurilla)

Sources

Eos GmbH and Solid Concepts have been quite helpful in numerous areas of my DMLS research. I want to extend this as a personal note of appreciation to their respective companies, and all the resources that they provided, as well as their research and professionalism in the field of metals manufacturing technology.

http://www.eos.info/en

https://www.solidconcepts.com/

Additional sources include:

Carl Deckard’s key SLS patent

Arcam Electron Beam Melting website

Renger’s (Morris Tech) EBM vs. DMLS comparison pdf

University of Texas at Austin article “Selective Laser Sintering, Birth of an Industry”

Selective Laser Melting on Wikipedia

Additive3D.com article “Direct Additive Fabrication of Metal Parts and Injection Molds”

General Electric acquisition of Morris technologies news release

3D Printing Industry (3Dprintingindustry.com) “Many 3D Printing Patents Are Expiring Soon: Here’s A Round Up & Overview of Them