Types of Metal 3D Printing Technologies

There are several types of metal 3D printing technologies ranging from accessible and affordable, to industrial and ultra-expensive. Here are the four main groups to consider.

Material Extrusion - FDM

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Material Extrusion metal 3D printers come in multiple varieties. FDM is one popular technology and it works by extruding a material that is around 80% metal powder and 20% polymer binder material by weight. Once printing is complete, the print requires debinding and sintering to achieve the desired solid metal part. Material Extrusion is by far the most affordable metal 3D printing technology, at about 10% the cost of the other three categories, making it the most accessible of all types of metal 3D printing when it comes to individual users, small businesses, or at scale within larger businesses.

Hardware Cost $5K - $110K

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Powder Bed Fusion

Powder Bed Fusion

Powder Bed Fusion is one of the types of metal 3D printing that actually contains multiple technologies, including Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM), Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM). All these technologies use metal materials in a powdered form. A powerful beam of photons (laser) or electrons (EBM) is flashed onto the individual powder particles to sinter or melt them ultimately to form a strong bond with the adjacent particle. By flashing the beam on the required particles according to the geometry, the powder is melted together and the object is formed.

Hardware Cost $150,000 - $1M

3 dollars
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Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting is similar to material jetting but it uses two materials instead of one. A powdered metal material sits in a tray and the binder material is sprayed onto it in a pattern to hold the powder together. A wiper brushes another layer of powder on top and the process is repeated - a feature also found in powder bed fusion. Once the “printing” is complete, post-processing is required which includes debinding and sintering to complete the part.

Hardware Cost $150,000 - $1M

3 dollars

Direct Energy Deposition

Direct Energy Deposition

Directed Energy Deposition (DED) is kind of like 3D printing with a welder. A nozzle holds the material in a wire form, known as a feed, that moves across multiple axes. An electron beam projector or laser then melts the feed as it moves across while tracing the object geometry. This process is also called Laser Engineered Net Shaping, 3D Laser Cladding, Directed Light Fabrication or Direct Metal Deposition. This technology is much less precise but faster than other technologies, making it ideal for very large projects. Post-processing involves general shape refinement through grinding, sanding, polishing, etc. Of the types of metal 3D printing this one is generally the most expensive.

Hardware Cost $200K - $2M

4 dollars

This article is a section from MakerBot's Definitive Guide to Metal 3D Printing in Your Workshop. Read the full guide to learn more about how metal 3D printing can fit into your desktop workflow.

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