Understanding Additive Metals

According to a recent assessment study conducted by SMS Research Advisors, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) shows significant promise of entering the mainstream of metal manufacturing in the coming years. As a growing additive manufacturing technology, DMLS is predicted to nearly double in its use by 2018.  As industries adapt to additive technology, additive metals will become a regular producer of complex, lightweight metal solutions for medical, aerospace and energy applications.

Because of the nuances associated with bringing these additive metal parts to fruition, DMLS is not always feasible for in-house production. Understanding how DMLS technology works, the materials available along with the resources and experience Stratasys Direct Manufacturing can offer throughout the production process will help you produce additive metal parts perfect for your application.
metal 3D printing

The DMLS Process

DMLS meters and deposits ultra-fine layers of metal powders then selectively melting each layer using a high-powered laser defined by a 3D CAD model. DMLS eliminates time and money-consuming tooling and produces geometries not possible with conventional metal manufacturing processes. It also allows for designs with no tooling access to have internal features.

The technology is ideal for complex parts and assemblies that have multiple components that traditionally would have had to be produced separately and welded together but can now be consolidated into a single piece geometry. Part consolidation cuts down on lead times and accelerates the project’s design and manufacturing timeline. With the high accuracy that can be achieved with DMLS, incredible functional pieces can be produced more quickly and sometimes at less cost than traditional manufacturing.

Parts produced from DMLS can reach a 99.5% density – much higher than pieces produced from investment casting. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing also offers secondary processing such as HIP (Hot Isostatic Pressing) if required. These characteristics make DMLS a great option for oil and gas components, custom medical guides and implants, consolidated aerospace parts and functional prototypes.

DMLS parts are built anchored to the build platform with a series of user defined supports that help achieve clean part removal and maintain part integrity. A great deal of expertise is needed to ensure designs are properly supported to avoid distortion and/or burn. When creating new geometries it is best to design parts to reduce the amount of supports needed in order to save time and money associated with support removal. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing works with its clients to ensure the designs are optimized for the DMLS process.

A raw additive metal piece straight from the machine has a similar surface to an extracted investment casting part and has to undergo varying levels of finishing for function and cosmetic requirements. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing will assess your product needs and offer the ideal post-processing for your end-goal. Using tumbling, polishing, surface grinding, media blasting, machining, wire EDM and detailed hand finishing, DMLS parts are brought to production quality.

The Right Material

DMLS alloys deliver dense, high strength properties. DMLS powders are created via argon-gas atomization. The demand for DMLS technology has compelled the development toward tailored metal powder compositions for the additive process. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing works directly with the metal powder atomizers to specify alloy chemistry and particle size. The resulting material is optimized for the additive process and, when processed through Stratasys Direct Manufacturing’s standard practice, produce properties comparable to wrought. Alloys are sourced to comply with chemical requirements of the relevant AMS standards.

The newest material offered by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is Monel K500. This newly-emerged additive metal material is liquid oxygen compatible and corrosion resistant. Monel K500 is a nickel-copper alloy with small percentages of titanium and aluminum that can be precipitation hardened. It’s a tested liquid rocket engine (LRE) material, valued by aerospace companies for its oxygen compatibility at high pressures. Components built with Monel K500 can be found in sub scale hardware, heat sink chamber spools, nozzle spools, oil pipelines and manifolds on rocket engines.

Other materials offered by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing include: Stainless Steel 17-4PH, Stainless Steel 316L – both corrosion resistant with excellent ductility; Cobalt Chrome which is ideal for dental restorations and custom medical implants due to its biocompatibility; Nickel Alloy 625 and Nickel Alloy 718 –  both with high tensile, creep and rupture strength; Aluminum (AlSi10Mg) which is die-cast grade; and Titanium (Ti64) which is biocompatible with excellent mechanical properties and corrosion resistance.

Future Possibilities

DMLS is a developing technology, with previously unseen capabilities. Parts made from DMLS are being used in the aerospace industry in rocket engine manifolds, injectors and combustor liners. Some energy companies are using DMLS to develop rotors, stators and prototype turbines. With biocompatible materials, DMLS pieces are being used as dental devices, surgical tools, orthopedic implant devices and educational models. With these successes, engineers are continuing to look forward to how this amazing innovation can continue to change the way we manufacture metal parts.

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