EBM vs. SLM: Differences and Comparison
Learn about the differences between these two 3D printing technologies.
SLM (Selective Laser Melting) and EBM (Electron Beam Melting) are powder bed-fusion 3D printing technologies. A high-energy beam is used to fuse metal powder layer by layer to ultimately print a solid component. SLM has better accuracy and resolution than EBM. EBM, on the other hand, can print faster when compared to single-beam SLM machines. However, there exist SLM machines with 12 high-powered lasers, which significantly improve their speed. EBM has a smaller set of possible materials, specifically refractory and resistant materials.
This article will compare EBM vs. SLM in terms of their system complexity, materials, and printing technologies.
EBM (Electron Beam Melting) is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology that is used to manufacture metal parts. Arcam (later bought out by GE) developed this technology in conjunction with the Chalmers University of Technology in 1993. EBM selectively melts a metal or metal alloy powder with a high-energy electron particle beam. This means that instead of energized photons like those in a laser, EBM makes use of energized electrons. The electron beam traces out the cross-section of a part layer and melts the metal particles together. After each layer is melted, the print bed moves down and another layer of metal powder is applied. The EBM printing process must take place in a vacuum to prevent oxidation of the part due to the extremely high temperatures generated by the machine.
EBM has a smaller range of materials, specifically refractory and resistant materials. Compared to EBM, SLM requires an inert gas-filled chamber and can print more accurately.
A typical EBM machine is shown in the image below:
A typical EBM machine.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Moreno Soppelsa
Listed below are some key advantages of EBM vs. SLM:
- EBM is capable of printing much faster than SLM when compared to a single-beam SLM machine. This is due to the wider beam generated by an electron beam.
- EBM can direct the electron beam at speeds of up to 8000 mm/s. SLM, on the other hand, mimics the speed of EBM by using multiple beams.
Listed below are some key disadvantages of EBM vs. SLM:
- EBM requires a vacuum environment. This limits the size of parts that can be built and adds additional complexity to the machine.
- EBM has a smaller range of possible materials to make use of compared to SLM.
SLM (Selective laser melting) is a powder-bed fusion 3D printing technology used to manufacture metal parts. SLM was first invented in 1995 and was commercialized by SLM solutions. SLM uses a high-powered fiber laser to selectively melt a metal powder. The laser creates a liquid pool of metal wherever it contacts the metal powder. The laser beam traces out the cross-section of a part layer and melts the metal particles together. After each layer, the print bed moves down and another layer of metal powder is applied. SLM uses a build chamber filled with inert gas. SLM is very similar to EBM but makes use of up to 12 high-powered lasers to melt the metal powder instead. It can also use a variety of metals and alloys.
The image below shows a typical SLM machine:
An SLM 3D printer.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/MarinaGrigorivna
Listed below are some key advantages of SLM vs. EBM:
- With SLM, the operator can adjust the beam width to either favor high speed or high precision.
- SLM can make use of a wider range of materials when compared to EBM.
Some key disadvantages of SLM vs. EBM are:
- SLM parts tend to have higher internal stress than EBM. SLM often requires post-build heat treatment to reduce residual stresses.
- A single-beam SLM machine prints slower than an EBM machine.
Number of beams
1 - Very quick beam positioning
Machines with 1, 4 and 12 beams are available
Requires vacuum chamber for print build volume
No - requires inert gas cover
20 to 50 microns
Parts have isotropic material properties
Parts need to be cooled after printing
Yes - Often overnight
Parts need support structures
Largest print volume
350 OD x 430 H mm (cylinder)
600 x 600 x 600 mm
Table 1: EBM vs. SLM Comparison
SLM printers have better layer height resolution than EBM while also having larger build volumes. EBM has a faster beam positioning, meaning it can achieve high speeds without the need for multiple beams.
Both EBM and SLM are powder-bed fusion technologies that make use of a high-powered beam to melt a metal powder. However, EBM uses a beam of electrons, while SLM makes use of multiple high-powered fiber lasers.
SLM is able to print a wide range of metals, including most iron, aluminum, nickel, cobalt, and copper-based alloys. EBM, on the other hand, is suitable for a smaller group of raw materials, including Ti6AL4V (a titanium alloy), Inconel® 718 (a nickel alloy), or CoCrMo (a cobalt alloy).
EBM is widely used in the aerospace industry to manufacture turbine blades, and in the medical field to produce orthopedic implants. SLM is used to make products in these same industries, but also finds uses in the automotive, construction, and jewelry industries.
SLM has a slightly larger available build volume when compared to EBM. This means SLM can print larger singular parts or parts that can fit more nested smaller parts. EBM size is limited by the need to print in a vacuum chamber.
EBM has a slightly worse surface finish when compared to SLM. This is due to EBM’s larger beam width which creates a rougher appearance between each layer. While both SLM and EBM may require post-machining for critical areas, EBM has a noticeably different surface finish.
On average, an entry-level SLM machine can cost upwards of $350,000 whereas an EBM printer can cost from $100,000 to $250,000.
Below is a mutual alternative to both EBM and SLM:
- DMLS: DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) is a powder-bed fusion process that melts metal powder together with a fiber laser, similar to SLM. However, DMLS has better resolution than either EBM or SLM, and typically makes use of multiple lower-energy lasers.
Listed below are some of the similarities between EBM and SLM:
- Both EBM and SLM are used to print metal parts.
- Both EBM and SLM use energy beams to melt the metal powder into a final part.
An alternative 3D printing technology to EBM is:
- EBM vs. DED: DED (Directed-energy deposition) is a metal printing technology that feeds a metal wire to a printing nozzle. The metal is then melted at the nozzle and deposited on the build plate layer by layer, similar to FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printing. This produces parts that have isotropic mechanical properties.
An alternative 3D printing technology to SLM is:
- SLM vs. SLS: Selective laser sintering can be compared to SLM as both technologies make use of a laser to melt a powdered material one layer at a time into a final part. SLS, however, can only print in plastic. Early metal printers just sintered the metal particles together, as they were unable to create a pool of molten metal like modern-day machines. For more information, see our article on SLM vs. SLS.
To learn more about EBM vs. SLM and which technology is better suited to your application, contact a Xometry representative or make use of Xometry's powerful quoting tool.
This article summarized the differences between EBM and SLM 3D printing technologies.
To learn more about EBM vs. SLM and to help select the perfect technology for your products, contact a Xometry representative.
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- Inconel® is a registered trademark of Huntington Alloys division of Special Metals Corp., Huntington, WV.
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