A frequent question we get from engineers has to do with how to decide whether to use a 3D printing process using metal materials for their projects. While each project is different and has different requirements, we thought it would be helpful to run a quick post about the most popular applications and advantages of Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS).
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is an Additive Manufacturing method that builds prototype and production metal parts using a laser to selectively fuse a fine metal powder. It creates fully functional parts out of metals such as Cobalt Chrome, Stainless Steel, Titanium, Inconel, and many others. The typical users of DMLS fall under these applications:
- Fast turnaround – DMLS parts are often produced in 1-3 days. So if you’re looking to a part in hand within a week using metallic materials, DMLS is a good option.
- High complexity – Difficult to machine parts, custom medical pieces, hollowed or lightweight parts, and artistic pieces fall in this category. DMLS is a good process to create highly complex parts for your project.
- Rapid or continuous revisions – Product development efforts and iterative designs are well-suited to DMLS because there are no setup costs as in traditional manufacturing. Without worrying about setup costs for each run, DMLS gives you incrementally more design revisions within budget.
So from prototyping to making test parts, or even low-volume production runs, Direct Metal Laser Sintering should be part of your manufacturing process portfolio to consider.
There are a number of key advantages DMLS holds over other 3D printing processes and CNC turning or milling, the most notable of which are the following:
- Ability to make highly complex part designs
- A key advantage of DMLS is the ability to produce parts that cannot be made using traditional manufacturing techniques. Manufacturing with DMLS can be advantageous if engineers design parts with complex geometries, such as integrated fastening features, long and narrow channels, custom contours, and metal mesh structures. DMLS allows for production of assemblies in single part form reducing number of parts, assembly time, and opportunity for failures.
- In specialized applications, the weight of the part is an important criterion of the design. Using subtractive processes for manufacturing of metal mesh or weight- reduced parts will dramatically increase the manufacturing time and cost due to the amount of material removed. DMLS is an optimal process for these parts as both manufacturing time and cost are reduced as volume decreases.
- Speed to production
- Speed is an important aspect of the design and manufacturing process. Both the quality of the product and the overall time to market are driven by the ability to produce physical models in a timely manner for fit and function tests, peer review, and market feedback.
- Here, additive technologies allow for faster and more efficient concept review and prototyping. Thus, DMLS parts are commonly used during pre-launch activities for product testing, whereas the final product is made with a tool (i.e. die casting, metal injection molding, sand casting). DMLS parts are commonly used to validate designs as part of final product quality assurance as well as stand in for parts early in product life.
- DMLS parts do not require tooling (e.g. molds, jigs, fixtures, gauges etc.), which reduces initial part manufacturing lead time from months to days. Thus, additive technologies such as DMLS present a tremendous value for product customization and change by offering ways to create short run, customized products without incurring expensive tooling changes.
As mentioned in the beginning, Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) may not be the right fit for your particular project or application. Other 3D printing processes such as SLS and CNC metal turning or milling may be a better fit for your project. Click here to learn more about all the manufacturing processes that Xometry offers.