Over the last 100 years, stainless steel has played a vital role in many industries ranging from nuclear energy and, healthcare, right through to domestic appliances we use every day. Now manufacturers are looking to increase the potential of Stainless Steel even further by combining it with 3D printing.
3D printing is a method of manufacturing three-dimensional solid materials using a digital model. This process is generally carried out with the help of a materials printer that features digital technology.
Unlike conventional machining techniques that perform removal of material by cutting and drilling, 3D printing operates by additive processes in which successive layers of the desired material are deposited to create an object.
Stainless Steel 3D Printing Technology
Stainless Steel offers a low cost form of metal printing and is ideally suited for large objects due to its strength. Like titanium and aluminum, stainless steel can also be used as a metal 3D printing material for complex designs not currently possible using traditional manufacturing methods.
The main method used for stainless steel 3D printing requires binding the layers of stainless steel powder together with a bonding agent. During the process, a stainless steel powder layer is laid in a build box, and a print head is allowed to move across the box to spray a binder solution. The layer deposited with binding agents is then dried using a heating lamp. Following this, a new powder layer is spread, and the process is repeated. The object is created layer by layer until it is complete, and it is then dried in an oven to cure the binder completely.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
The process involves selective sintering (heat and fuse) of a powdered material whereby layers of stainless steel powder are laid down and the granules are then fused together using a laser.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
SLM uses metallic powders to build functional 3D parts. Thin layers of metal powder are laid down and then fused together using an ytterbium laser. Once the part is complete it is removed from the bed and goes through any finishing required.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS uses a laser source to bind a powdered material together. It is very similar to SLS and is predominately used with metal powders.
Benefits of Stainless Steel 3D Printing Technology
3D-printed stainless steels have many benefits, including:
- Resistant to heat at temperatures up to 831°C
- Light in weight
- Produced in shorter time
Applications of Stainless Steel 3D Printing Technology
As with traditional stainless steel, 3D-printed stainless steels find applications in a wide range of areas. These include:
- Construction applications
- Dental caps
- Metal implants
- Industrial applications – designing functional components
- Decorative models like statues, medals and keys
- Military applications
- Manufacturing automotive parts
- Stainless Steel Flanges
3D steel printing is a reliable and fast manufacturing technology. Although the cost of functional 3D metal printers is relatively high, there are a few inexpensive 3D printers currently available on the market. Several manufacturing companies are now opting for 3D steel printing as it is precise, inexpensive and more realistic method compared with other technologies.
In general, continued innovation and development of 3D steel printing will likely produce more creative designs at lower costs.
By Stuart Milne