Watch and Learn: There’s More Than One Way to Additively Manufacture a Metal

Earlier this week, when I posted a video about 3D-printed bike parts, I was simply too excited about the prospect of digitally fabricating dropouts to concern myself with the technology behind the collaboration between Charge Bikes and EADS. Commenter Modul called me out on my lack of due diligence, piquing my interest in a process known as DMLS, short for Direct Metal Laser Sintering. Had I done my research, I might have dug up commenter Lori Hobson’s mention of “DMLS, a process for METAL, even titanium!!!”… in response to a 2008 (!) post on rapid prototyping. (Just a friendly reminder that we welcome and value constructive comments from our readers!)


It turns out that Hobson, at the time, was at product development consultancy MindTribe, and she’d recently learned about the process herself. Frankly, her lengthy March 2008 blog post is a pitch-perfect introduction to the process, and I’d recommend it for anyone who needs a primer.


Which brings us to 3T RPD, who provided the images in Hobson’s post (reproduced here). The UK-based additive manufacturing outfit that has been the country’s largest SLS (plastic 3D printing) provider for over a decade. They recognized the potential of DMLS early on and are currently the major provider of metal AM since their first foray into DMLS in 2007. Their site has further details on DMLS for prospective clients, including a quasi-archaelogical video, as well as case studies.


As 3T RPD notes, the EOS M270/280 is more or less the industry standard for DMLS machines… at least to the extent that they’ve made their way stateside. We’d direct U.S. clients to SoCal’s Forecast3D or Illinois-based GPI Prototype to get their metals directly laser-sintered. For those of you who prefer a bit of faux-drama for your edification, the latter produced a “Super Cheesy but Funny Video on Direct Metal Laser Sintering for Rapid Prototype and Additive Manufacturing”:

Indeed, a more recent (and recommended) survey of 3D Metal Printing indicates that:

According to several reports, it is clear that European design and manufacturing firms are more advanced at both creating and utilizing additive technologies than their US counterparts (especially in the medical and dental arenas). And firms such as Boeing, Airbus, and even NASA are already using systems from the likes of EOS and Arcam.

Where EOS specializes in DMLS, Arcam is the current leader in Electron Beam Melting, or EBM, which is explained more or less in full in the informative CGI above. For reference, an in-depth comparison of the two processes can be found here, and Arcam has done well to post a comprehensive company profile on YouTube. Unfortunately, videos of actual EBMing are, well, kinda trippy to say the least: it’s hard to tell what, exactly, is going on amid the roving sci-fi lasers and crazy disco shimmering. Take a look:

(Another clip juxtaposes factual stills with the mesmerizing, if largely incomprehensible, EBM footage.)



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