Metal 3D printing technologies — like metal fused filament fabrication (metal FFF) — presents a breakthrough way to make functional metal parts accessible for businesses of all sizes. Metal FFF and composite FFF share many key process advantages over conventional manufacturing.
What are some 3D printed metal applications that metal FFF is well-suited for? This blog post includes metal additive manufacturing application examples for:
- forming, cutting and bonding
- low-volume custom parts
- maintenance tools/fixtures
- replacement parts
For a comprehensive dive into the different types of 3D metal printing applications, download our Metal 3D Printing Applications white paper.
Forming, Cutting and Bonding
Plastic and composite tools can have limited applications — such as forming dies. Utilizing the inherent hardness and strength of the material, metal forming and cutting tools can make highly customized geometries. Metal 3D printing provides a series of compelling applications in forming, cutting and bonding.
Punch dies and stamp dies. Metal 3D printing can fabricate custom tool steel punch and stamp dies. Printed parts need to be hardened and post-machined for precision. Complex tools can be economically advantageous for metal FFF.
Cutting tools. Metal 3D printing can be leveraged to create highly customized cutting tools. These specialized tools can include custom internal channels for cooling fluids or intricate geometries, which are not attainable with conventional fabrication methods. Carbide tips can be brazed onto 3D printed tool steel tool bodies, giving them a repeatable and reliable cutting surface. Other examples include custom CNC cutters or other traditional cutting tools.
Weld shanks and induction coils. This application is specific to copper parts. Weld shanks and induction coils both use conductive properties coupled with geometric flexibility to provide unique solutions in their spaces. Custom geometries for these applications can be designed and printed; for example, weld shanks can be designed with internal cooling channels for a higher performance tool or to perform spot welding on a unique geometry. For induction coils, metal 3D printing enables precise and uniform heating for specialized parts. Due to the difficulty of machining copper, metal 3D printing offers an economical way to make these copper parts.
Low Volume Custom Parts
While many production parts are mass produced, a subset of end parts are fabricated in low volumes. 3D printing production applications skew toward low volume, high customizability, and specialty materials — all of which are significant per-part cost drivers.
Busbars, heat sinks. As mentioned, copper is extremely difficult to machine. Busbars and heat sinks, which are typically made from copper, are also geometrically complex, further adding to the cost. Metal 3D printing can help overcome these challenges; for example, unlocking custom geometries that can increase performance or geometries that cannot be replicated conventionally.
Custom Inconel parts. Like copper, Inconel carries massive fabrication costs. For low volume Inconel parts, metal 3D printing can be the most cost competitive and fast solution.
High-mix, low-volume parts. For some parts that require bespoke customizability or have extremely complex features at low volume, metal 3D printing production makes business sense. These parts can be prototyped and produced on the same platform.
Metal brings hardness and wear resistance that composite 3D printing cannot. Maintenance tools, created by metal 3D printing, can also be highly customized for difficult field tasks.
Custom hand tools & inserts. Printing hybrid tools with composite tool bodies and metal wear surfaces can enable manufacturers to quickly make a durable, functional tool, for a wide variety of applications. In addition, users can interchange tool bodies and inserts, making a single tool usable in a wide variety of situations.
Metal 3D printing represents a compelling way to fabricate replacement parts that are difficult or even impossible to procure. Cast part replacements can leverage metal 3D printing’s complexity and near net shape precision.
Cast part replacements. As mentioned, cast parts requirements closely map to metal 3D printing capabilities. Casting replacement parts conventionally is infeasible due to high tooling costs. Metal 3D printing offers a no-tooling alternative. Applications work well in the automotive space (car restoration), but easily translate to other industries where bespoke replacement parts are required.