Metal 3D Printing's Key Advantages Over Conventional Fabrication

Metal 3D printing processes -- like metal fused filament fabrication (metal FFF) -- present a breakthrough way to make functional metal parts accessible for businesses of all sizes. The experts at Markforged explore metal FFF applications and the advantages of deploying it over conventional fabrication.

Metal FFF 3D printing is an expanding space with a wide range of solutions, capabilities, and maturities. The technology offers an accessible way for the modern manufacturer to print real metal parts with advantages not found with traditional fabrication.

Complex Geometries at No Cost

3D printers excel at creating complex geometries due to an automated slicing and printing process for additive part construction.

3D printing of everything from prototypes to end-use parts can be faster, cheaper and easier than subtractive manufacturing methods.



In subtractive machines, complexity and cost have an exponential relationship -- complex 2D geometries require a 2 or 3 axis CNC mill while 3D geometries require a 3 to 5 axis CNC mill. These machines are costly to program, operate, and maintain. Metal FFF printers overcome these challenges and can produce complex curves and geometries with ease.

Ultra-High Customizability

Metal FFF printers make it easy for users to dynamically alter designs to solve specific problems. Engineers, when dealing with conventional manufacturing, are often forced to pick between low cost, one size fits all solutions and ultra expensive one-offs.

Low Barrier to Functional Parts

Metal FFF printers bring the user closer to the means of production in several key ways.

Markforged's Metal X offers an accessible end-to-end metal 3D printing solution designed to yield functional metal parts.



First, there is no need for CAM or drawings; users can go directly from CAD to the part with little preparation. Metal FFF printers can be housed in almost any environment and are affordable while conventional manufacturing usually requires acquisition of expensive machines or outsourcing of parts.

Fabricating Difficult-to-Machine Materials

Metal FFF can fabricate materials that are commonly too challenging to print or cost prohibitive to fabricate using conventional manufacturing. This process is faster and less expensive than machining from a block of wrought stock.

3D printing applications skew toward low volume, high customizability, and specialty materials.



Impossible Geometries

Metal FFF 3D printing enables manufacturers to print geometries that are not achievable by conventional manufacturing practices. These new geometries can improve part performance or open up new capabilities.

VIDEO: Metal 3D Printing Walkthrough | Metal X

Metal FFF Applications

The following metal FFF application examples, while not an exhaustive list, can serve as examples to help manufacturers gain an accurate understanding of what's advantageous to 3D print. Markforged recommends that manufacturers examine their own operation for similarities and opportunities to leverage advantages of metal FFF 3D printing.

Concept Models and Functional Validation

Metal FFF printers are an ideal R&D technology -- enabling users to quickly and efficiently check if their design intent meets functional requirements. Because metal FFF is fast and light on logistics, parts can be quickly printed and avoid long lead times common with conventional fabrication.

Custom 3D Printed Impeller



Within this space, prototypes are the most common application. They come in many shapes and sizes, but typically are most valuable when there is a need for a metal prototype for a metal part. Metal prototypes are required when the properties required in the prototype cannot be matched by composite parts.

While many parts can be prototyped by metal FFF, the type of parts that have the highest ROI are ones that are economically inefficient to produce at low volume or are impacted by long lead times.

Workholding/Alignment Tools

Like prototyping, workholding and alignment are common CFR (Continuous Fiber Reinforcement) printing applications. Metal FFF adds a new dimension to the existing composites applications space, thus opening up new opportunities.

Cast Part Prototype



Composite tooling is transformational but has its weaknesses. In these areas, metal FFF parts shine. Metal is both heat and wear resistant where composites are not. Manufacturers can also utilize the inherent performance advantages of metal 3D printing, which include lightweighting, cooling channels, etc. -- to build tools that perform better than the conventional alternative.

Hybrid Tools

3D printed metal and composite parts can be combined into hybrid tools.

These tools enable users to harness the inherent strengths of each technology. This includes instances particularly where localized wear resistance is required; for example, users can print metal tips and plastic bodies.

High-Wear End of Arm Tooling (EOAT)

EOAT, which is a common composite application, has additional specific metal applications. Examples include:

Hybrid End of Arm Tooling



Brazing Fixtures

Brazing fixtures need to be strong in high temperatures. 3D printing meets those requirements and adds a level of customizability. Metal parts can also work in the extreme heat conditions of furnaces. Complex features and difficult-to-machine materials make conventional manufacturing expensive.

High-Wear Workholding (stanchions, cradles, etc)

Bending Die



Line tools like stanchions and cradles are subject to repeated abrasion and wear. Metal 3D printing provides an easy way to make customized tools with hardened, wear-resistant metals.

Forming, Cutting, and Bonding

Plastic and composite tools can have limited applications -- such as forming dies. Utilizing the inherent hardness and strength of the material, metal forming and cutting tools can make highly customized geometries. Metal 3D printing provides a series of compelling applications in forming, cutting and bonding.

Punch Dies and Stamp Dies

Metal 3D printing can fabricate custom tool steel punch and stamp dies. Printed parts need to be hardened and post-machined for precision. Complex tools can be economically advantageous for metal FFF.

Cutting Tools

Metal 3D printing can be leveraged to create highly customized cutting tools.

Cutting Tools



These specialized tools can include custom internal channels for cooling fluids or intricate geometries, which are not attainable with conventional fabrication methods. Carbide tips can be brazed onto 3D printed tool steel tool bodies, giving them a repeatable and reliable cutting surface. Other examples include custom CNC cutters or other traditional cutting tools.

Weld Shanks and Induction Coils

This application is specific to copper parts.

Weld shanks and induction coils both use conductive properties coupled with geometric flexibility to provide unique solutions in their spaces. Custom geometries for these applications can be designed and printed; for example, weld shanks can be designed with internal cooling channels for a higher performance tool or to perform spot welding on a unique geometry.

For induction coils, metal 3D printing enables precise and uniform heating for specialized parts. Due to the difficulty of machining copper, metal 3D printing offers an economical way to make these copper parts.

Low Volume Custom Parts

While many production parts are mass produced, a subset of end parts are fabricated in low volumes. 3D printing production applications skew toward low volume, high customizability, and specialty materials -- all of which are significant per-part cost drivers.

Custom Inconel Part



Like copper, Inconel carries massive fabrication costs. For low volume Inconel parts, metal 3D printing can be the most cost competitive and fast solution.

Maintenance Tools/Fixtures

Metal brings hardness and wear resistance that composite 3D printing cannot. Maintenance tools, created by metal 3D printing, can also be highly customized for difficult field tasks.

Custom Hand Tools & Inserts

Printing hybrid tools with composite tool bodies and metal wear surfaces can enable manufacturers to quickly make a durable, functional tool, for a wide variety of applications. In addition, users can interchange tool bodies and inserts, making a single tool usable in a wide variety of situations.

Replacement Parts

Metal 3D printing represents a compelling way to fabricate replacement parts that are difficult or even impossible to procure. Cast part replacements can leverage metal 3D printing's complexity and near net shape precision.

Casting replacement parts is especially useful in the automotive industry.



Casting replacement parts conventionally is infeasible due to high tooling costs. Metal 3D printing offers a no-tooling alternative. Applications work well in the automotive space (car restoration) but easily translate to other industries where bespoke replacement parts are required.

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