3D printing technology is developing at a very fast rate and is being widely applied in many different industries, in which metal 3D printing is one of the fastest growing areas.

In the past 5 years, the metal additive manufacturing industry (or metal 3D printing) has made strong developments in both technology and materials, along with the advent of 3D printers. These factors, coupled with the tremendous growth in digital design, have created a wide range of applications in fields ranging from aerospace to automotive to medical. Here are some popular applications:


1. Limited quantity products, or special products

This is the largest and widest application category in metal printing with products ranging from production equipment to high-quality bicycle frames or robotic arms. 

Hydrodynamic valve designed by Gen3D and 3D metal printed by HBD (Source HBD)


Companies opt for 3D printing in cases where design software has created better, more efficient products that can only be created through 3D printing technology. Complex designs, such as hydraulic valves as shown above, can only be manufactured using 3D printing.. 


Similarly, for special products that require multiple processes in the manufacturing process such as welding, casting, and assembly, 3D printing is often faster and more efficient. Currently there are a few companies, such as BMW, that have applied metal 3D printing technology to mass-produce such special products.


The following companies have been using 3D printing technology to mass-produce limited or special products:

1.  NASA manufactures rocket engine fuel pumps by 3D design and printing, with the result that 3D printed products have 45% fewer parts than traditional manufacturing.
2.  Bathtub company Grohe produces the faucet by 3D printing metal with half the weight of the product compared to the original traditional design.
3.  To increase product life, Ulterra, a company specializing in the production of parts for the oil and gas industry, uses ExOne's 3D printers to create products that have a longer lifespan and are cheaper than conventional products
4.  GE uses metal 3D printing to print turbine blades for the GE9X aircraft engine, the world's largest aircraft engine, which will be used in the next-generation Boeing 777
5.  Porsche completed endurance testing of 3D printed pistons for the 911 GT2 RS engine and concluded that these Aluminum-printed pistons are better than cast or forged pistons. 3D printed pistons are lighter, resulting in increased power to about 30 hp


2. Functional Metal Protoypes

Currently, printing metal specimens that are able to work accurately with the final product is one of the popular applications of metal 3D printing.

Metallic printed prototypes printed with the same material as the final product have enabled engineers to have firm confirmation of the design concept, beyond the confines of form perception. Operability, ergonomics and manufacturability are easily verified. The high cost coupled with the complexity of fabrication is a major impediment to the production of some metal specimens. Meanwhile, metal 3D printing technology requires no special tools (tooling), does not need to set up complex machinery, and is often faster than traditional manufacturing, helping engineers to shorten product development time a lot.



Here are some examples of using metal 3D printing as prototypes:

1.  Lumenium, a Virginia-based company develops a breakthrough internal combustion engine using 3D printing technology, thereby reducing product development time by about 25%
2.  Kitchenware companies have developed rapid prototyping using metal 3D printing to create unique products, shorten product development times, and even mass production. with limited quantity
3.  Shukla Medical uses Markforged's Metal X metal 3D printer to build prototypes surgical devices for testing before mass production

3. Manufacture of spare parts or products that are no longer manufactured
Whether for temporary or permanent replacements, having the ability to print essential parts in the factory at the time of need makes investing in metal 3D printing a smart investment. The Covid-19 pandemic makes 3D printing even more important by shortening the supply chain and the ability to supply essential products locally.

For original equipment manufacturers, a revolution is taking place in material management. Instead of having to store thousands or tens of thousands of products or parts, manufacturers only need to keep a digital management system of the products to be printed, saving a lot of space and reducing production costs. Metal 3D printing can create a real product in hours or days depending on the size of the product.


In addition to producing parts, metal 3D printing also helps extend the life and repairability of discontinued products. Here are some examples of companies using metal 3D printing to make parts:

1.  Porsche uses metal 3D printing to produce parts for rare cars, creating a wide selection of rare parts at much cheaper prices than original parts.
2.  Deutsche Bahn enables metal 3D printing from existing technical drawings or from scanning existing products to create spare parts for older models
3.  U.S. Marine Corp approved metal 3D printing process to replace damaged tank parts
4.  Through 3D printing, ArcelorMittal, a Luxembourg-headquartered multinational steel producer, is able to print parts on demand and thereby reduce the stockpile of parts.
5.  Mercedes-Benz now has a service to print parts from the digital catalog catalogue

4. Anatomy and dental implant

The hip bone part is 3D printed metal by the company Stryker

The medical device field has great potential for the application of metal 3D printing technology, not only in terms of application but also in great demand in quantity. In projects applying 3D printing technology, the medical field is currently leading the way from applications in dentistry to hip implants, according to a report on the global application of 3D printing technology by the research company SmartTech.

Although dental labs are currently using 3D printing of plastics to create molds and porcelain for tooth replacement, the application of metal 3D printing to create permanent implants is growing rapidly. Outside of the field of dentistry, the increasing number of applications of metal 3D printing to create human implants is also growing at an impressive rate.

Surgeons are increasingly frustrated with the limitations of available parts manufactured in a few standard sizes, which also helps accelerate the application of 3D printing to create products customized for the each patient. Here are some companies that are using metal 3D printing to manufacture implants in the medical industry:

1.  Swift Dental Group from the UK has changed from traditional casting production to using metal 3D printing to create dental implants to increase efficiency and maintain quality. precisely using 3D printer from Renishaw company
2.  Stryker, one of the world's leading medical device companies, has used 3D printing to manufacture hip and knee replacements.
3.  Toughware Prosthetics uses metal 3D printing to produce light-weight, structurally complex products using alloy materials steel mixed with copper, which cannot be manufactured using traditional machining methods system
4.  Graft3D Healthcare Solutions, a company in Chennai, India uses software and metal 3D printing to print jaw implants using Titanium material
5.  AK Medical uses a fleet of eight GE Arcam EBM printers to manufacture implants for the orthopedic field in China


5. Jewelry and decorative arts

Ora Pendant jewelry designed by Bathsheba Grossman and  printed by Materialize

Designers have pushed beyond design by using 3D printing technology to directly print jewelry out of metal materials. Beautiful, intricate designs that cannot be produced using traditional methods have been created using metal 3D printing technology. 
Here are some examples of 3D printing applications in the jewelry industry:
  1. Arlid Links a leading jewelry company for metal 3D printing of jewelry using metal powder materials obtained from weapons confiscated in the disputed areas
  2. Brazilian jewelry designer Veronica Nunes founded a company specializing in the design and 3D printing of very unique and sophisticated jewelry.