Metal additive manufacturing continues to be one of the most influential next-generation technologies. While metal 3D printing is a hot topic in the industry, most of the focus has been on large-scale production and throughput rather than accessibility. For those new to metal 3D printing, entering into additive versus subtractive manufacturing can be a daunting task. What does a machine shop need to think about when considering supplementing their CNC machining capabilities with a metal 3D printer? What technology should a service bureau be considering when introducing metal additive manufacturing into their existing polymer printing capabilities? In short, where to begin?
If your business involves functional prototypes, low-volume production, product development, long-tail production, or spare part manufacturing of metal components, it’s likely that metal 3D printing is already on your radar. But, aren’t metal 3D printers large and difficult to use? Not entirely.
There is an emerging segment in the metal 3D printing hardware market focused on the needs of entry-level industrial customers. Desktop Metal and Markforged were the first to address this need with their metal “desktop” printers. But, seeing as the overall footprint is really the bigger issue at hand, independent of whether it can sit on your desktop, the term Compact Industrial Metal 3D Printers is a more accurate description. These printers have all been designed for a smaller space, with relatively easy set-up, and a much shorter learning curve. This sound expensive, right? Not comparatively.
It’s true that the major players in the metal 3D printing market, such as EOS, Concept Laser, and SLM Solutions, are all focusing on increasing productivity with larger and more expensive machines, with price tags over US$1 million. However, the Compact Industrial Metal Printer manufacturers recognize that this kind of capital investment is out of the question for many of the new users of this technology and have specifically designed printers at a price point of less than $200,000, and in some cases even less than $100,000. Well then, these printers must have poorer quality or work at a slower speed, right? Not necessarily.
Speed and Quality
Since these printers are designed for the industrial user, the manufacturers of these printers recognize that speed & quality cannot be compromised. Some of the manufacturers, such as Xact Metal, offer two solutions: a cheaper option, and a more expensive option (but still relatively low-cost) that prints at a faster rate. And, both produce high quality parts comparable to some of the higher priced printers.
In short, there are several Compact Industrial Metal 3D Printers to consider when venturing into metal additive manufacturing for the first time. Excitingly, the manufacturers have listened intently and are releasing impressive printers, at a reasonable price point and improved accessibility, while still retaining the speed and quality needed for industrial manufacturing.
Blog by Kristin Mulherin,
Senior Analyst – SmarTech Analysis