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Pushing the boundaries

Krefeld, Germany. - 3D printing with metal is not yet as advanced as its plastic counterpart. Yet development is progressing, and the boom could start soon. Special protective gases will play an important role in this process.

Additive manufacturing – the technical term for 3D printing – is becoming increasingly widespread in the processing of metal materials. The challenges here are much greater than with plastics processing, the first one being the source material. “Metal 3D mostly uses a metal powder, which is difficult to manufacture and has to meet very high quality standards,” Dr Bernd Hildebrandt, a Messer welding and cutting specialist, explains.

Powder bed and laser beam

Such metal powders come at a price. For 3D printing, they are first melted in portions, just like the plastics, but that is where the similarity between the processes ends. The first layer of the component is made from a thin layer of metal powder, which involves melting it using the heat generated by a guided laser or electron beam. The next layer of powder is then applied, which, again, is melted along the component contours. In this way, the desired product is produced layer by layer. Another additive process – powder spraying – is more reminiscent of welding. A carrier gas conveys the powder into a laser head, where it comes into contact with a laser beam and melts. The pressure of the gas moves the melt onto the workpiece, where it is given the desired shape by the computer-controlled movement of the head. This method can also be used to supplement and change existing components.

Even complex metal parts can be manufactured with a 3D process.

Complex structures

Additive processes take time. Depending on size, it can take hours or days to complete a component. “So far, therefore, 3D printing with metal has not exactly been a prime contender for mass production,” Dr Hildebrandt explains. “However, if we are talking about high-quality components with a complex geometry, then it is definitely worth considering. For example, you can produce turbine blades with intertwined cooling channels in a single operation, which would not have been possible with conventional processes.” In fact, besides the aircraft industry, power plant technology is one of the most important fields in which additive manufacturing is used. A well-known tyre manufacturer uses it to produce profile moulds for its HGV tyres. The process is also ideal for the manufacture of implants – tooth implants, artificial hip joints etc. – that are an exact fit for the patient’s anatomy.

Gas protection

The molten metal always needs to be protected against atmospheric influences, in particular oxidation. That is another similarity between additive manufacturing and welding. A publicly funded research project has confirmed how, in principle, different gases influence additive manufacturing with metals. “This is why we have created the ‘Addline’ product line. I expect the techno - logy to experience a boom in the near future, and we are prepared for it.”

Further information:
Senior Manager Application
Technology Welding & Cutting
Messer Group GmbH
Phone: +41 2151 7811-236


Messer Cutting Systems is a global supplier of cutting edge technology. The company offers products and services for the metalworking industry which set standards world-wide. As market leader in its branch, the machine manufacturer supplies complete solutions and concentrates strategically on advising its customers and customer oriented innovation. Here, the company focusses on the digitalisation of processes and products. Messer Cutting Systems is represented with more than 800 employees in 5 main locations with production facilities and in more than 50 countries.

The product range includes oxyfuel, plasma and laser cutting systems from hand guided machines right up to special machines for shipbuilding as well as machines and equipment for oxyfuel welding, cutting, brazing, soldering and heating. Spare parts, repairs, modernisation, maintenance and service as well as environmental technology round out the product portfolio. In-house software solutions optimise production and business processes. The product range is extended by solutions from technology partners, for example in the field of automation.

An intensive dialogue with our customers has prime position – the modern training centre makes this claim clear. World-wide, Messer Cutting Systems is the partner of choice for cutting systems, oxyfuel technology and customer consultancy.