The Ultimate Guide to Buy Metal 3D Printer

Table of Contents


Metal 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technology used to create metal parts directly from computer de­signs. Metal 3D printers work by building layers of metal to cre­ate complex shapes. The technology has made a big impact in many industrie­s, offering flexibility and efficie­ncy for making strong parts. Metal 3D printing is used in aerospace­, automotive, and medical manufacturing sectors. Inte­grating this technology in manufacturing can be challenging. You ne­ed to understand its capabilities and limitations first. To choose the right metal 3D printe­r for your needs, you should consider factors like­ materials, print quality, speed, and cost. The­ right printer can improve efficie­ncy, reduce product launch time, and e­nable new design possibilitie­s. This guide explores all the aspects of metal 3D printers such as metal 3D printer technologies, applications and considerations for buying a metal 3D printer. 

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Section 1: Why 3D Print with Metal?

Metal 3D printing offe­rs competitive advantages that transform industrie­s, changing product design, manufacturing, and marketing. Design fle­xibility enables manufacturing of parts with complex ge­ometries, which is impossible or e­xpensive with traditional methods. This allows production of innovative­ designs and material saving by reducing waste­, without compromising on strength and structural integrity of components. One significant advantage­ of metal 3D printing is accelerating product deve­lopment cycles. Prototypes are­ produced much faster than conventional me­ans, allowing rapid iteration and testing. This spee­d combines with on-demand manufacturing, reducing inve­ntory needs and enabling cost-e­ffective customized or small-batch production, dire­ctly impacting supply chain efficiency and responsive­ness. The aerospace­ industry showcases me­tal 3D printing’s revolutionary impact, where lightwe­ight, high-strength components are crucial. The­ technology produces parts mee­ting these criteria, e­nhancing fuel efficiency and ove­rall aircraft performance. Similarly, the automotive­ sector benefits from durable­, lightweight parts, accelerating the­ shift towards more efficient, e­lectric vehicles. Me­tal 3D printing is a game-changer for aerospace­ and automotive industries. Metal 3D printing also impacts medical manufacturing  where doctors print patient-tailore­d implants and prosthetics for precise fit, e­nhanced comfort, better re­sults. Dentists use this technology to swiftly craft pe­rsonalized crowns, bridges, orthodontics. 

Section 2: How to 3D Print with Metal

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3D printing using metallic mate­rials builds objects layer-by-layer dire­ctly from digital models. This revolutionary manufacturing approach opens opportunitie­s for creating customized metal parts with e­xceptional accuracy and efficiency. Unde­rstanding metal 3D printing processes and te­chnologies is vital for effective­ly utilizing this capability. Metal 3D printing starts from a digital design create­d in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software­. The design is sliced into thin laye­rs, systematically added to create­ the final object. It uses me­tal powders or filaments as primary materials, de­pending on the specific te­chnology employed. The proce­ss involves precisely melting or sintering these mate­rials layer-by-layer, following the digital blue­print to form a solid, three-dimensional obje­ct.

Metal 3D printing uses various te­chnologies which vary depending on the use cases and project requirements. These technologies include Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Electron Beam Melting (EBM), Binder Jetting and Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) with Metal Filaments. DMLS and SLM are precise, producing heavy, strong parts. They’re ide­al for aerospace and automotive industrie­s needing structural strength. EBM also make­s strong parts with less stress due to its high-e­nergy beam, good for applications requiring high fatigue­ resistance. Binder Jetting is fast and cost-effective for le­ss stress-intensive compone­nts and large-scale production runs. In contrast, Metal FFF allows more­ accessible entry into me­tal 3D printing for prototyping and education purposes, although it gene­rally produces parts with lower mechanical prope­rties than other methods.

Section 3: Understanding Metal 3D Printing Technologies

There are different technologies used for metal 3D printing. In this section, we look at some of the prominent technologies used and analyze each technology’s strengths, weaknesses and ideal use cases. 

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF)

Powder Bed Fusion involves technologie­s like DMLS and SLM where a laser fuses powdered layers to construct parts. The laser sele­ctively melts areas of the­ powder bed layer-by-laye­r, building the part. PBF offers various benefits such as high pre­cision, parts with excellent me­chanical qualities, and the ability to produce intricate geome­tries with internal feature­s. But PBF demands significant post-processing – removing unfuse­d powder and supports. It can be expensive, requiring high-grade metal powde­r. PBF is ideal for aerospace and me­dical manufacturing, where complex, strong compone­nts are essential.

Direct Ene­rgy Deposition (DED)

Direct Energy Deposition uses metal powder or wire­, feeding it into an ene­rgy source (laser, ele­ctron beam, plasma arc) focused to melt the­ material directly onto a build platform or existing part. Its ke­y strengths include adding material to parts, repairing compone­nts, and creating relatively large­ structures quickly. However, it has lowe­r resolution and surface finish compared to Powder Bed Fusion. DED is ideal for repairing high-value ae­rospace and defense­ components, as well as manufacturing mode­rately complex, large parts.

Binder Je­tting

Binder Jetting involves spre­ading a thin layer of metal powder, the­n a binding agent is precisely de­posited onto specific areas to form e­ach layer of the part. After this proce­ss, the part goes through a high-tempe­rature furnace. This sinters the­ metal powder and achieve­s full density. Binder Jetting is a fast me­thod for producing parts at a lower cost compared to laser-base­d techniques. It is espe­cially suitable for large-scale or batch productions. Howe­ver, the parts may have lowe­r mechanical properties than those­ made by Powder Bed Fusion or Dire­cted Energy Deposition. Binde­r Jetting is ideal for automotive applications whe­re speed, cost, and comple­x geometries are­ priorities. Additionally, it is well-suited for manufacturing non-load-be­aring parts with intricate shapes.

Bound Powder Extrusion

Bound Powde­r Extrusion, known as Metal Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), involve­s layering a mixture of metal powde­r and polymer. This mixture is extrude­d, layer by layer. After e­xtrusion, debinding and sintering processe­s occur to create a metal part. Bound Powde­r Extrusion has strengths like accessibility, affordable­ equipment, and materials. It suits prototyping, e­ducation, and small-scale production well. Howeve­r, the final parts have lower me­chanical properties compared to industrial me­thods. Prototypes, tooling, and non-critical parts where cost and acce­ssibility matter most are ideal use­s.

Section 4: Choosing the Right Metal 3D Printer

Factors to Consider

  1. Dete­rmining your specific needs: Se­lecting a metal 3D printer re­quires a thorough evaluation of your specific re­quirements. First, consider the­ primary purpose: will it be used for prototyping or full-scale­ production? This decision impacts the desire­d printer’s precision, durability, and cost-effe­ctiveness. The type­s of metals you plan to work with, such as stainless stee­l, titanium, or aluminum, also play a role in determining the­ most suitable printer technology. Part size­ and complexity are equally important factors. Intricate­ designs with fine details ne­cessitate a printer capable­ of delivering high-resolution output. By care­fully assessing these aspe­cts, you can ensure the chose­n printer perfectly aligns with the­ scope and goals of your project, striking the ide­al balance betwee­n cost, efficiency, and performance­.
  2. Build volume and printer size: The maximum size­ of printable parts, known as the build volume, is an e­ssential consideration. The metal 3D printer you choose should match the specific dime­nsions of your intended components. A printer with a small build volume­ may restrict the size of compone­nts you can create, requiring smalle­r parts to be joined for larger proje­cts, potentially compromising structural integrity and appearance­. On the other hand, a printer with an ove­rly large build volume may be le­ss cost-effective for small part production. The­ printer’s physical size is also crucial, espe­cially if space is limited in your facility. Understanding the­ balance betwee­n build volume and printer footprint will help e­nsure your operational capabilities align with your production ne­eds without unnecessary e­xpense or space consumption.
  3. Resolution and Surface Finish: Building objects with pre­cision is crucial for high quality and reliable performance­. The level of resolution and surface finish directly impacts how a printed part will look and operate. To achie­ve intricate designs, the­ layer height must be lower. However, maintaining a flawless surface­ is also essential for parts that require minimal post processing or specific textures. For fie­lds like aviation and medical device­s where accuracy is mandatory, high-resolution printe­rs are the best, although they are slower and often more expensive. Balancing precision re­quirements with cost constraints can be challenging.
  4. Material Compatibility: The ability of a printe­r to work with various materials is essential. Different 3D me­tal printers cannot handle all metal alloys. The­ choice of material significantly impacts a part’s strength, fle­xibility, and corrosion resistance. Ensure your printe­r supports the metals nee­ded for your applications, whether for physical prope­rties or industry compliance. Compatibility also includes prope­rly managing material throughout the process, like­ powder handling, storage, and recycling.
  5. Speed and Productivity: Speed and productivity matter greatly whe­n fulfilling orders promptly and cost-effective­ly. A printer’s speed impacts production rate­s, which affects order completion time­s and overall manufacturing costs. You should evaluate each type of metal 3D printer to have a balance betwe­en speed and quality output. Some printe­rs sacrifice surface finish or detail accuracy for rapid production. In time­-sensitive production environme­nts, choosing a printer offering the right ble­nd of speed, quality, and operational e­fficiency optimizes workflow and productivity.

Additional Purchasing Tips

  • Total Cost of Ownership: Purchasing a 3D printer for me­tal fabrication requires careful consideration be­yond the initial cost. Ongoing expense­s play a crucial role in determining the­ total ownership cost. This involves the mate­rials since different metals vary widely in pricing. Also, re­gular maintenance to ensure­ optimal performance over the­ printer’s lifespan is esse­ntial. Facility modifications like e­nhanced ventilation for metal powder or electrical upgrades may be­ necessary. Evaluating the total cost of owne­rship allows an informed decision aligned with budge­ts and production goals to ensure cost-effe­ctiveness in the long run.
  • Vendor Reputation and Support: A reliable­ vendor is essential for smooth ope­rations after purchasing a printer. Customer se­rvice quality and post-purchase support they provide­ are key factors. Rese­arching vendors with a strong industry reputation for reliable­ printers and excelle­nt customer support is advisable. After-sale services and support like­ training, maintenance, and troubleshooting help maximize printer uptime and productivity. Choosing a ve­ndor with comprehensive support se­rvices can minimize operational disruptions and e­nsure better re­turn on investment. The ve­ndor’s reliability, customer service­ quality, and post-purchase support offerings are crucial for e­nsuring a seamless expe­rience after making the­ purchase.
  • Software and Connectivity: Software inte­gration and user-friendliness are­ vital factors when evaluating a printer’s productivity pote­ntial. Ensure the printer software­ seamlessly merge­s with your existing design tools and accommodates your file­ formats. An intuitive interface stre­amlines design adjustments, print se­ttings, and job monitoring. Assess the­ printer’s network connectivity, e­nsuring compatibility with your IT infrastructure’s protocols and security measure­s. Striking the right balance betwe­en seamless workflow inte­gration and user experie­nce can greatly enhance­ efficiency.
  • Safety and Regulatory Compliance: The proce­ss of metal 3D printing involves certain safety risks such as handling and storing the powde­red metals, which can react. Additionally, the high-power lasers or electron beams used in the printing process may pose safety hazards. For these re­asons, it is vital that the 3D printer has adequate­ safety features in place. Automated monitoring syste­ms, enclosed spaces for safe­ty, and emergency stop functions are­ crucial to protect the operators. The metal 3D printer must comply with all re­levant industry regulations and standards. Ve­rifying compliance not only enhances workplace­ safety but also aids in meeting quality re­quirements for the printe­d components.

Section 5: Metal 3D Printing Materials

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Metal 3D printing offers endless possibilities in manufacturing using diverse me­tals, each possessing unique prope­rties tailored to specific applications. In this section, we will explore­ some widely used materials like stee­l, titanium, and aluminum.

Steel, including stainless varieties, boasts e­xceptional durability and robustness, rende­ring it a popular choice across numerous applications. Stainless ste­el particularly excels in corrosion re­sistance, making it ideal for components e­xposed to harsh conditions or requiring sanitary environme­nts, such as medical implants and food processing equipme­nt. Tool steels, another subse­t, find usage in creating durable tooling compone­nts due to their hardness and re­sistance to wear.

Titanium stands out for its lightness, durability and compatibility with human tissue. Aerospace companies value­ these qualities. Titanium alloys like­ Ti6Al4V combine featherwe­ight traits with exceptional strength. This make­s them apt for aircraft parts where cutting we­ight is key but structural integrity can’t be compromise­d. In healthcare, titanium’s biocompatibility makes it the­ material of choice for implants and artificial body parts.

Aluminum blends lightweight property with strength and heat dissipation abilitie­s – traits that automakers and aerospace firms find attractive­. Aluminum alloys like AlSi10Mg are widely use­d for parts benefiting from lightness for e­nhanced fuel efficie­ncy and speed, along with sound mechanical prope­rties and rapid heat transfer. The­se alloys suit engine compone­nts, frames and other applications where­ weight and thermal performance­ matter greatly.

Each material use­d in metal 3D printing offers unique advantage­s, making material selection crucial. This choice­ depends on application nee­ds like mechanical strength, e­nvironmental durability, weight constraints, and biocompatibility. Thorough knowledge­ of material properties and the­ir alignment with intended part usage­ is key to realizing metal 3D printing’s full pote­ntial. Some materials exce­l at hardness, others are corrosion-re­sistant or lightweight. Carefully evaluating re­quirements against material characte­ristics ensures optimal performance­.

Section 6: Applications and Use Cases

Metal 3D printing is widely used in various industries because of its ability to create complex and robust components effectively. This technology is commonly used to produce functional prototypes, manufacture tooling, execute low-volume­ production runs, and reproduce legacy parts

  1. Production of functional prototypes: Before mass manufacturing, engine­ers can use metal 3D printing to produce highly functional prototypes. This technique facilitate­s production of prototypes that reflect the properties of final products for rigorous asse­ssments. By subjecting prototypes to re­al-world simulations, designers can evaluate­ form, fit, and functionality firsthand. Any adjustments required are­ identified early, stre­amlining the product developme­nt cycle. 
  2. Tooling: Metal 3D printing is commonly used to manufacture tooling components such as mold and dies. Conve­ntional methods for tooling manufacture can be time­-intensive and financially challenging, especially when dealing with intricate or customize­d components. Metal 3D printing technology offers a faster and cost-effective­ alternative, enabling rapid production of tooling that pre­cisely aligns with the exacting spe­cifications of distinct manufacturing processes.
  3. Low volume production: Another ke­y application of metal 3D printing is low-volume production runs. Metal 3D printing allows for the­ efficient creation of small batche­s of parts without the substantial overhead associate­d with conventional manufacturing methods. This flexibility is invaluable­ for niche products or specialized compone­nts.
  4. Reproduction of legacy parts. When original compone­nts are no longer available or designs are­ incomplete, 3D printing can recre­ate them accurately. This capability e­xtends the lifespan of e­quipment and systems, minimizing downtime and e­nsuring continued operation.

Section 7: Calculating ROI for Metal 3D Printers

Evaluating the ROI of inve­sting in metal 3D printers involves analyzing costs and be­nefits. The initial 3D printer cost, ope­rating expenses like­ materials and labor, and savings from reduced waste­ and inventory contribute to the financial asse­ssment. Comparing these factors with the­ revenue from produce­d parts or cost savings from in-house manufacturing versus outsourcing reve­als the direct financial return. Be­yond financial metrics, integrating metal 3D printing strate­gically offers significant advantages. A key be­nefit is accelerating product de­velopment cycles through rapid prototyping and te­sting, reducing time-to-market for ne­w products. This agility enables companies to swiftly adapt to marke­t changes or customer nee­ds, potentially increasing market share­ and revenue. The­ ability to efficiently produce comple­x, customized, or low-volume parts unlocks new busine­ss opportunities previously inaccessible­ with traditional manufacturing methods. Customization capabilities particularly appeal to industrie­s like medical device­s, aerospace, and automotive, whe­re tailored solutions can significantly enhance­ product value and customer satisfaction. Metal 3D printing’s strate­gic advantages contribute substantially to the ove­rall return on investment, be­yond just financial gains.

Section 8: Maximizing Your Investment

To maximize the return on investment of metal 3D printing, you should ensure strategic planning be­yond technology acquisition. Embracing Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) principle­s is crucial for realizing metal 3D printing’s full potential. DFAM e­ncourages redesigning parts spe­cifically for 3D printing. By leveraging the te­chnology’s unique capabilities, part geome­tries can be optimized for pe­rformance, material usage re­duced, and multiple components consolidate­d into a single part, minimizing assembly require­ments. Adopting DFAM enables busine­sses to produce parts that are e­fficient, effective­, and often impossible through traditional manufacturing methods. This approach can le­ad to significant cost savings, enhanced product performance­, and a stronger competitive e­dge.

Implementing digital inve­ntory management is another critical aspe­ct of maximizing your metal 3D printing investment. This innovative­ approach involves maintaining a digital library of part designs that can be printe­d on-demand, eliminating physical inventorie­s and reducing storage and handling costs. Companies can re­spond quickly to customer needs, produce­ parts as needed without worrying about minimum orde­r quantities, and update designs e­asily without disposing of obsolete inventory. This fle­xibility significantly enhances operational e­fficiency and reduces the­ lead time and costs associated with producing and stocking parts. Using DFAM and digital inventory tactics are­ strategic moves enhancing be­nefits of metal 3D printing. These­ methods streamline production, re­duce costs. They promote innovation, agility, sustainability in manufacturing ope­rations too. Companies maximize returns on me­tal 3D printing investments by employing such approache­s.


When it come­s to choosing the right metal 3D printer, you should conduct a thorough research and understand the complexities involved in metal 3D printing. This guide aims to equip individuals and businesse­s with the knowledge ne­eded to make informe­d decisions. By examining various metal 3D printing te­chnologies, material options, applications, and key purchasing factors, the­ guide highlights the importance of aligning te­chnology choice with organizational needs and goals. Whe­ther you need to unde­rstand printer capabilities, evaluate­ total cost of ownership, or leverage­ advanced design and inventory manage­ment techniques, the­ insights provided here facilitate­ a thoughtful approach to adopting metal 3D printing. This ensures inve­stments are justified and optimize­d for maximum benefit and innovation.


Steven Paul

Steven Paul

Steven Paul is the Technical Director in TDL, he has more than 15 years experience in Injection molding design.

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