Powder-Based 3D Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

20 Mar

Powder-Based 3D Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

When we talk about the best 3D printers, what is the first thing that strikes your mind?

Is it the machinery, the digital image of the object, the filament, the printing process or the finally printed object?

One of the prominent elements of each and every 3D printer is the filament, which is normally available in spools. And should we mention, how indispensable the role of a good filament is, in getting you the gorgeous 3D printed objects.

Let’s now move a step forward.

You would have already studied quite a number of 3D filaments viz. plastics, nylon, metals etc., but you ought to know that there are other 3D printers too which do not need wired filaments.

Instead, these work on powdered (amorphous) materials which are used as inks to create 3D objects.

Let us know about this technology a bit more:

·Metal-Based Powders For 3D Printing:

Metals are one of the rapidly advancing segments in the 3D printing industry. They find applications in almost every industry with aerospace, automotive, jewelry and medical sectors being some of the major ones.

And instead of using filament-based inks, the researchers are focusing on metals in a powdered form such as:

·      Precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, palladium)

·      Titanium

·      Brass, copper and chromium

·      Stainless steel

·      Aluminum and aluminum alloys

·      Stainless steel

·      Cobalt-chromium and other super alloys

·      Bronze and other alloys etc.

How Are These Powders Manufactured?

Metallic Powders could be produced out of a number of methods, but the most common one is the water atomization.

Water Atomization: In this, the molten metal stream is treated with high-pressure water, followed by rapid cooling. This gives rise to metal powders which are irregular and tough in shape. Irregular-shaped powders are less desirable as they increase the flow time. Instead of these, the manufacturers use controlled conditions to produce metallic powders with the particles in a spherical shape.

Apart from this, other popular methods which are used to produce metallic powders are:

·      Plasma Atomization

·      Centrifugal Atomization

·      Electrode Induction Gas Atomization

Are All These Powders Suitable?

NO!

The metallic powders which are used for 3D printing should possess some special characteristics. Some of these are as follows:

·      As aforementioned, spherical shape of the particles is almost an obligation to ensure high packing density and superlative flow/coating ability

·      The size of the particle varies between 50 µm to 150 µm, all depending on the desired surface finish, machine type and productivity demanded

·      Particle size distribution should be personalized according to the properties and applications

·      Gas content and chemical compositions should be in a well-controlled manner

The Significance Of Metal-Based Powders:

Why do we talk about metal based powders? Let us take an example:

You could use a Tarantula 3D printer to print in various kinds of plastics and polymers as these are available easily. However, metallic 3D filaments are way too distinct in their characteristics than the polymers.

They use almost totally discrete technology such as Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Direct Energy Deposition (DED), Electron Beam Melting (EBM) and infiltration etc. and require the highest level of caution while working.

Thus, metallic powders could be highly significant and a promise for future in terms of metal-based 3D printing.

Polymer-Based Powders For 3D Printing:

Of course, you use the best 3D printer for your home or industrial printing, employing the best filaments in the form of polymers.

Also, the usage of the 3Dscanner for 3D printers is not a hidden aspect.

For this, you need to get spools of the filament which vary a great deal in their features. However, the latest powder-based 3D printing technology does not obligate the use of filament-based inks, but the powders of your desired printing material.

For instance, Nylon is by far the most popular Polyamide which is used as a filament. This is tough and more resistant than most of the similar plastics such as ABS and PLA.

Now, you could get Nylon powders instead of Nylon filaments, which could be fed to the printers and get similar, tough 3D printed results.

Thus, instead of polymer filaments, you could always get polymer powders which too offer the most desirable 3D printed jobs.

 

Though this technology of using metallic and polymer powders is comparatively a new one, you could never deny it being a promising one. Powder-based 3D printing offers advantages such as:

·      You have a wide range of materials available

·      You do not need integrated support structures to form complex shapes

·      The printed objects are cheaper than the filament-based prints

Thus, it could be concluded effectively that powder-based 3D printing is definitely an approach for the future.

And no matter what the industry tends to be, automotive or aerospace, hospitality or any other, the technique of 3D printing with the help of amorphous elements is bound to offer more cost-effective and convenient outcomes as compared to what they deliver today.  

Image Credits : Shapeways

Chris Joel (Author)

Powder-Based 3D Printing: A Comprehensive Guide
Chris Joel is a writer at 3D Printers Online Store. Hailing from South London, he has a degree in English Literature. His interests include the application of 3D printing technology to art and its popularization.