Over Twenty Years of Success in Metal AM

Ever since it’s first introduction during the late 1990s metal additive manufacturing (AM) has continuously made progress and created parts that have made a significant impact on the success and growth of the 3D printing sector. While it is impossible to pinpoint a single part that has had the most impact, there are now several notable industrial uses that have played a crucial role in advancing the adoption and acceptance of metal AM technology.

Some of these impactful metal AM parts include:

  1. Aerospace Components: Turbine blades, vanes, and other engine components produced using metal AM have revolutionised the aerospace industry. The ability to create complex internal geometries, optimise cooling channels, and reduce weight has improved engine efficiency, increased fuel economy, and enhanced overall performance. Metal AM has allowed for the production of lightweight yet durable parts using advanced alloys, such as nickel-based superalloys, high-strength aluminium alloys, and titanium aluminides.
  2. Medical Devices: Metal AM has been a game-changer in the production of customised medical implants, surgical instruments, and patient-specific devices. Numerous medical companies and healthcare institutions have successfully utilised metal AM to address specific patient needs and improve medical treatments. From orthopaedic implants, such as hip and knee replacements, to craniomaxillofacial and dental implants, metal AM has provided a means to create patient-specific designs with improved fit, reduced surgery time, and enhanced biocompatibility. This ability to tailor implants to the individual patients’ anatomy has transformed the medical field, improving patient outcomes and greatly increasing the quality of life for those concerned.
  1. Automotive Components: Metal AM has found its place in the automotive industry, particularly for high-performance and specialised motorsport applications. Formula 1 teams are continuously exploring new technologies and pushing the boundaries of innovation to gain a competitive advantage on the race track. Metal additive manufacturing offers them the ability to create highly customized and optimized components, contributing to improved performance and faster development cycles. Additively manufactured parts such as lightweight brackets, suspension components, roll hoops, and heat exchangers have enabled improved vehicle performance, reduced weight, and enhanced energy efficiency. Metal AM also offers opportunities for complex geometries and consolidation of multiple parts into a single component, streamlining manufacturing processes and reducing assembly requirements thus making things like aerodynamic test rakes and pitot tubes very simple to produce iteratively.
  2. Tooling and Moulds: Metal AM has significantly impacted the tooling and mould industry by enabling the supply of complex and customised production tooling with vastly reduced lead times compared to some conventional manufacturing routes. Additively manufactured tooling and moulds can incorporate conformal cooling channels, allowing for more efficient and uniform cooling during manufacturing processes. For the plastic injection moulding sector this enhances productivity, reduces cycle times, and improves the surface quality of end products.
  3. High-Performance Industrial Components: Metal AM has been successfully applied to produce high-performance industrial components in sectors such as oil and gas, power generation, and defence. These components include impellers, heat exchangers, turbine parts, and sensors, and more notably fluid powder components such as pumps, actuators, and valves. By leveraging the design freedom and material optimisation capabilities of metal AM, these industries have achieved improved performance, reduced size and weight, increased efficiency, and enhanced durability.

It is important to note that the impact of metal AM extends beyond specific parts and encompasses the broader transformation of manufacturing processes, design possibilities, and global supply chains. The introduction of metal AM has paved the way for innovation, more sustainability, and greater cost-efficiency across various industries. Over the last two decades this has propelled the overall success and growth of the additive manufacturing sector.