Metal casting has been around for centuries, in fact, the first castings can be dated back to ancient China in the 4th century B.C. Now, here we are in the 21st century, and there is a real buzz around metal 3D printing and it’s ability to print a metal object with no need for tooling, moulds or the pouring of hot metal. So what does metal 3D printing actually mean and is it really a contender to the metal casting industry?
What are the Metal 3D Printing technologies?
Finding out what metal 3D printing options are currently available is no easy task! The technology is advancing so quickly. You read one white paper on the subject and think you have it understood. However, two days later there is a press release and another slightly different technology is emerging!
That said, we have have researched what information is publicly available and created a one page summary. It gives a brief overview of the different types of metal 3D printing available today.
Impact on the metal casting Industry?
So what impact could 3D printing have on the metal casting industry? The answer is that theoretically, 3D printing has the potential to be hugely disruptive. The possibility to print complex structures and reduce weight whilst keeping the part strength and reliability is particularly exciting, especially to the automotive and aerospace industries.
However there is a major gap between theory and today’s reality. These current metal 3D printing techniques face a variety of issues that need to be addressed. The issues broadly include:
- Cost – the techniques are too expensive for mass production
- Quality – the metal powders are not good enough and create porosity issues
- Geometry constraints – cooling metal tends to warp leading to imperfect shapes
What we do know is that metal 3D printing research and development is gathering momentum and interest. In turn this brings together investment and the brightest minds to look at overcoming these issues.
So today the answer to the question of whether metal 3D printing is a rival to metal casting is ‘No’. What the answer will be in 2, 5 or 10 years time we don’t know. But, like any possibly disruptive technology, the answer is not to bury our head in the sand and ignore it. We have to jump on in, get involved and embrace what could quite possibly be a new era of manufacturing!