Metal 3D printing is still a fairly premature technology, despite being around for over 30 years now. It is primarily used in the production of extremely complex and prototypes. Numerous companies across the globe have invested heavily in the development of 3D printing in order to cut manufacturing costs for these complex industrial parts. There have been many recent technological advancements for 3D printing as well, with more materials available to meet the specifications of those in the automotive, aeronautical and medical fields.

Metal 3D printing is a very elaborate and in-depth process that can be conducted in either direct methods or hybrid methods. Between these two categories, there are five types of technologies used in the 3D printing process.

Direct Methods:
  1. Laser Melting (DMLS, SLM or DLP): a high temperature laser melts the metal powder and creates an object layer-by-layer based on a CAD file. This process is often used when working with titanium, steel or aluminum. It is an extremely effective method for producing or prototyping parts of high resilience.
  2. Electron Beam Melting (EBM): an ideal method for working with aluminum and cobalt alloys. It is a sensitive process in which the metal powder is heated by electron beams to create the object layer-by -layer from a CAD file, and must be conducted in a vacuum environment to avoid oxidizing the material. The only issues with EBM are that it does not produce parts as accurate as the laser melting method would, and the size of the object is dependent on the size of the 3D printer which is typically fairly small.
  3. Laser Metal Deposition (LMD): This is typically used when working with raw steel or aluminum. Often, it is used in repair work for various engines and other large objects. It is fairly easy to use and the process is very similar to that of Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM).
  4. Binder Jetting: This is perhaps the cheapest and fastest form of 3D printing. Inkjet heads deposit a liquid onto the metal powder, binding the material layer-by-layer based on data from a CAD file. It is typically used when working with large objects/structures composed of stainless steel or bronze
Hybrid Methods:
  1. Wax Casting: A wax 3D model is created and then covered with a material to form a mold which liquid metal is poured into to form the part. It is frequently used by manufacturers who work with objects of weak mechanical properties
  2. Ultrasonic Sheet Lamination: In this process, metal foils fill up a roller and are cut by a laser on a cutting bed based off of data from a CAD file. Following this, the sheets are welded together by an ultrasonic consolidation. It is primarily used for shaping multiple material


Choosing the appropriate method of metal 3D printing is extremely vital step in the process. Each method is tailored to meet specific requirements for specific materials. In order to ensure the accuracy of an object, users much carefully select the right method for their specific job. As metal 3D printing continues to mature, manufacturing capabilities will, in turn, grow as well. This technology holds the potential to one day enable people every to produce an object whenever they want, wherever there is a printer.