3D printers aren’t restricted to the use of plastics or thermoplastics. While most fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers do, in fact, build objects using these materials, others are capable of building objects with raw metal. Being that metal is obviously harder and stronger than plastic, you might be wondering how they work. After all, 3D printers can’t extrude metal out of a nozzle. Instead, they rely on an entirely different mechanism to build metal objects.
The Basics of 3D Printing Metal Objects
3D printers typically build metal objects by depositing powder particles onto a print bed. Metal is too hard for 3D printers to extrude out of a nozzle. Whether it’s steel, titanium, iron or aluminum, 3D printers must deposit the metal in the form of small granules or particles. To build a metal object, the 3D printer will release these powder particles onto a print bed, which will eventually form the printed object.
The powder particles used to build metal objects are typically dry. Therefore, the 3D printer must bind them together using a separate method. Normally, 3D printers bind powder particles together by sintering or melting them. They project heat or a laser over the powder particles, which causes them to bind together. As the powder particles fuse, they form a solid structure.
3D Printing Methods for Metal Objects
Several 3D printing methods are capable of building metal objects, one of which is electron-beam melting. Electron-beam melting is a high-tech 3D printing process that involves depositing powder particles onto a print bed while simultaneously melting the powder particles with a laser beam. When the laser strikes the powder particles, it melts them. The fused powder particles are then used to build the metal object.
Another 3D printing method that’s capable of building metal objects is selective laser sintering. Like selective laser melting, as well as electron-beam melting, it uses a laser to bind powder particles together. Selective laser sintering, however, uses a lower temperature than the aforementioned 3D printing processes. Nonetheless, it’s still capable of binding powder particles together so that the 3D printer can build metal objects.
Many people assume that 3D printers can only build objects using plastic and thermoplastic materials. As revealed here, though, this isn’t the case. There are certain types of 3D printers that support the use of metal materials. The raw metal consists of powder particles that are deposited onto a print bed. 3D printers then bind them together using heat.