Metal powder is the backbone of metal 3D printing. Though it’s difficult and dangerous to handle in its raw state, its unique features make it the preferred metal stock type. The vast majority of metal 3D printing technologies utilize a metal powder.
As a result, the major differences between types of metal printers relate to how they fuse the powder into metal parts. These methods vary greatly, ranging from using high-energy lasers to fuse the loose powder to extruding bound metal powder filament. You can also create a 3D model online with the help of 3D experts.
Powder Bed Fusion
Known by many names, powder bed melting is currently the most common type of metal 3D printing. These machines distribute a fine layer of powder over a build plate and selectively melt a cross-section of the part into the powder layer. There are two distinct types of powder bed melting techniques: Selective Laser Melting and Electron Beam Melting.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
The majority of Powder Bed Fusion machines are Selective Laser Melting (SLM) machines. SLM machines use high-powered lasers to fuse metal layers into parts. After a print, an operator removes the part (or parts) from the powder bed, cuts the part away from the build plate, and post-processes the part. It’s the current standard for metal printing — most companies in Metal AM today sell SLM machines.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
EBM machines use an electron beam instead of a laser to fabricate parts. GE Additive is the only company producing EBM machines. The electron beam yields a less precise part than SLM, but the process as a whole is faster for larger parts.
These machines have almost all of the same constraints, costs, and issues as SLM machines, but are used more heavily in aerospace and medical applications than anywhere else. Similar to SLM, EBM machines cost upwards of 1M to set up and require a dedicated technician to run.