3D Laser Printing of Stainless Steel: High-Tech in the Steel Industry

PUBLISHED 5 July 2017

3D laser printing has revolutionised computer aided manufacturing. The process enables producing complex components with higher tolerances and a higher degree of precision. So a variety of special shapes are possible.

3D laser printing stainless steel profiles

The Process of 3D Laser Printing

The process starts with the creation of a 3D CAD model. System software then numerically slices the CAD model into several finite layers. It calculates a laser scan path for each sliced layer. This defines both the boundary contour and some form of fill sequence using a raster pattern.
A laser beam recreates each subsequent layer in sections by melting a bed of powder. As each it forms each layer, a wiper spreads the powder uniformly. This process is repeated several times. Melted particles are finally fused and solidified to form each component, layer by layer.

Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM)

Metal additive manufacturing is an innovative technique. It produces dense parts directly from 3D CAD data. Furthermore, it works by fusing fine layers of metal powder using a focused laser beam. Metal additive powder bed fusion fuses layers of metal powder together. Hence, it can create complex designs and geometries which may be impossible using traditional manufacturing methods. So the process takes place in a variety of applications and industries. For example, 3D laser printing metal dental implants, which are designed to mimic the shape and density of the original tooth. This enables greater bio stability.

Intricate Designs in 3D Laser Printing

One advantage of 3D metal printing is that you can design the object or section intricately in CAD. Afterwards you can send it to the 3D laser printer. Moreover, components may be required for bio surgery. For example, surgeons use the case of hip replacement or even complex cranial-facial implants in surgery following trauma. Therefore, the skull is scanned in order to ensure symmetry. Then  3D laser metal printing can re-produce the relevant bones accurately.

Reduced Lead Time and Costs

This process reduces lead times and costs. It can mannufacture items with excellent precision and very tight tolerances in shapes and angles. Manufacturing them would otherwise be extremely difficult, if not impossible or prohibitively expensive, without the use of Computer Aided Manufacturing.

Elimination of Tooling

3D laser printing eliminates the need for tooling which may inherently build in weaknesses or imperfections. Moreover, 3D laser printing allows you to make small modifications to CAD data. Hence, you can re-produce parts quickly. Another advantage is that the process can recycle unsintered material and reuse it in further component creation. It is also possible to inscribe the company name on the part or an ID number. So the part can be identified correctly. This is extremely important for aircraft or motor vehicle parts where traceability is vital.

Flexibility in Designs

3D laser printing enables flexible designs

One of the most useful advantages of 3D laser metal printing is the greater flexibility it provides in subsequent designs. Due to this, you are able to change things quickly and easily. Manufacturers can produce parts and components faster once they have a prototype. This enables them to create further components much more quickly using the same data and 3D scans.

Hot Metal Extrusion

A platform helds parts in place. This dissipates heat and stress during the production process. Support structures for complex designs held the metal powder in place. It is then turned into liquid in order to retain its shape for the piece to harden. Afterwards, you can remove these support structures once the component has hardened.

Variety of Metals

It is also possible to use a variety of materials in 3D laser printing. This includes stainless steel as well as maraging steel or precious metals. You can even use cobalt chrome, titanium, nickel-based alloys or aluminium. This means the application and use of such components is extremely wide.
Thus you can create components for various application and industries. Next to defence this is also medical, air and automotive industry. Even jewellery designers, architects and manufacturers use 3D laser printed comoponents.

Today’s Limits of 3D Laser Printing

The technology itself is quite expensive. On the hand, investment costs are very high and productivity on the other hand very low. However, this is not an issue when realizing unique components. But for an industrialized mass production the technology is still too expensive.
There are limits to the overall size. 3D laser printing can only make small sections that fit into a virtual cube with an edge length of eighty millimetres. Longer sections are not realistic yet.
All in all, 3D laser printing is the ideal solution for making small, complexed components. For profiles made of aluminium,titanium or stainless steel extrusion is necessary.

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