Introduction to Metal Additive Manufacturing

Introduction to Metal Additive Manufacturing

An introduction to metal additive manufacturing and its benefits, as well as metal 3D printing applications.

Interested in other articles?

Interested in other articles?

Search articles

What is Metal Additive Manufacturing (or Metal 3D Printing)?

Initially seen as a process for concept modelling and rapid prototyping, Metal Additive Manufacturing (or Metal 3D printing) has enjoyed a period of significant expansion over the last five or so years.

From prototyping and tooling to final part manufacturing in industrial sectors such as medical, dental, aerospace, automotive, architecture, furniture, and jewellery, it now has uses in many areas of our lives, with more and more innovative applications in the pipeline.

Metal Additive Manufacturing is considered to be one of the disruptive technologies, as it revolutionizes how we approach design and manufacturing. From consumer goods produced in small batches to large scale operations – with everyone from artists and designers to individuals, small and medium-sized businesses, and huge corporations using Metal Additive Manufacturing to produce a wide range of products – Metal Additive Manufacturing is here to stay.

Data courtesy2

What is Metal Additive Manufacturing used for?

Metal Additive Manufacturing is used for a wide range of applications. For example, in the production of models and prototypes during a product’s development phase, or final parts for pilot series production as well as larger scale production in the medical, consumer goods, consumer electronics, automotive, and aerospace industries.

Not only that, but series production tooling costs can be too high for casting or injection molding. Parts can also be too geometrically complex, making them unmanufacturable with traditional processes such as molding, milling, grinding, casting, CNC machining, etc.

The birth of Metal 3D Printing

When Stereolithography (SLA) – which was a new plastic manufacturing process at the time – was commercialized in the 1980s, it became the very first patent in additive manufacturing. With SLA, manufacturers were able to produce 3D models and parts faster. How? By solidifying UV light-sensitive liquid polymers with a laser – a new technology frontier in additive manufacturing processes that opened new opportunities for manufacturers, engineers, and designers to create prototypes, final parts, and products more efficiently than ever before.

New polymer-based 3D printing technologies became commercially available by the early 1990s, and soon after that, Metal Additive Manufacturing was patented and made freely available like other additive manufacturing processes. Like the others, it was a technology that enabled speedier, more efficient manufacturing of metal prototypes, products, and tools.

Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) was the first process to power the early metal 3D printers, producing metal parts by sintering a specific metal powder. However, the mechanical properties and characteristics of these metal powder materials were typically more comparable to composites than to metal alloys, due to the fact that metal materials with low melting points were being combined with high resistance metals like stainless steel.

Introducing more Metal 3D printing processes

Not long after the introduction of Laser Powder Bed Fusion, initially Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology, several companies started launching new processes and systems – for example, Selective Laser Melting (SLM), Laser-Engineered Net Shaping (LENS), and Controlled Metal Buildup (CMB) technologies - to get a piece of the action.

In the early 2000s, a new process known as Direct Metal Deposition (DMD) – also initially known as Direct Energy Deposition (DED) or Laser Cladding – was introduced. Direct Metal Deposition was initially used to add a certain amount of metal to repair damaged parts. However, as 3D printing expanded into the production of end-use 3D printed parts, so too did DMD (now often used interchangeably with Laser Metal Deposition or LMD) to create entire parts or objects.

Metal 3D Printing: Coming on in leaps and bounds

Fast forward to 2018, however, and we had progressed in leaps and bounds. This saw the introduction of HP’s Metal Jet technology, a disruptive new process that leverages and extends the workflows and technologies that HP developed with HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) for 3D printing plastics into metal additive manufacturing with new functional agents, processes, and printing hardware.

In the late 20th century, the manufacturing industry underwent a complete transformation. This was thanks to the induction of commercial additive manufacturing – a process that continues to take the industry by storm. Metal Additive Manufacturing and its various uses are now spearheading manufacturing for production.

Spurred on by the introduction of Metal Additive Manufacturing machines with open material platforms and faster printing speeds, the Metal Additive Manufacturing market continues to show significant growth potential.

With the advancements and advent of more efficient and innovative Metal Additive Manufacturing technologies and processes, it’s important to understand the full potential and variety of applications and how these new benefits can be applied to solve business challenges, create new business models, and change the face of manufacturing forever. 

Data courtesy1

Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) – what are the advantages?

Metal Additive Manufacturing (MAM) offers benefits beyond enhancing the creation of the outer geometry of a part and its strength and function. It also has the unique ability to allow designers and manufacturers to integrate new functionality directly into parts, which opens up new performance capabilities for technical parts in particular - for example in tooling production: integrating conformal temperature control, or vacuum channels running directly underneath the surface of the die. 3D printed metal parts typically have impressive physical properties, and the available material range includes metals that are otherwise difficult to process, like superalloys.

How can Metal Additive Manufacturing reduce lead times?

Of course, other advantages of metal 3D printing include the acceleration of the product life cycle, and faster transition from the design phase to final part production. How? Typically, aside from the need to remove support structures that may be used during the 3D printing process, additional steps to process the part after it has been 3D printed are not required. In fact, with some Metal Additive Manufacturing processes such as HP Metal Jet technology – no support structures are needed during 3D printing, further streamlining the process.


Any specific shape or geometry requirements—for example, holes, threads, textures, or connecting elements—can be “designed into” the part and 3D printed directly, so no milling or specific adjustment to the shape with CNC machines is required after production. With the elimination of these steps, weeks can be cut off the total lead time to produce the final part.

In addition, with injection molding, the step of producing tooling or molds to produce the final parts can take weeks or even months and can be costly. However, with metal 3D printing, this step can be completely eliminated, adding new levels of efficiency both from a time perspective as well as a cost perspective.

Design freedom to create lightweight yet strong 3D printed metal parts

With an additive, rather than subtractive, fabrication process, material waste is also reduced as only the material required to form the part layer by layer is actually used. Metal 3D printing offers design freedom that cannot be achieved cost-effectively with traditional manufacturing processes. This design freedom allows for more complex geometries with more efficient, topologically optimized part designs that are lightweight or that consolidate a complex assembly into one single part while using less material. Light and strong parts and products can be created with topological optimization software by adding material in areas of high stress and removing material from areas of low stress to optimize the load bearing. These advantages make for a manufacturing process that offers many new options and efficiencies for aerospace or automotive applications in particular, and also across multiple industries.

Metal Additive Manufacturing processes – how are they used?

The manufacturing world is not quite ready to fully replace traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding with Metal Additive Manufacturing just yet, given that it has not reached the required productivity levels required for the mass production of millions of identical simple parts. However, as systems and technologies advance – such as HP Metal Jet technology’s evolution in metal 3D printing – the use of Metal Additive Manufacturing for producing larger quantities is something we will start to see more of in the near future. When it comes to efficient mass customization – or mass production of multiple, individual parts or objects – then we are already there. For example, for applications like dental restorations, which require a highly individualized production process, it’s economically viable to use Metal Additive Manufacturing technologies to cost-effectively speed up production times.

Metal 3D Printing in industry 

Applications in aerospace, for example, showcase the opportunities that Metal Additive Manufacturing presents in an ever-demanding sector with well-known examples such as fuel nozzles redesigned and optimized for performance (more lightweight and enhanced durability).

But it doesn’t stop there. Metal 3D printing allows designers and engineers to streamline existing manufacturing workflows, as well as offering new opportunities for production with significant enhancements that enable both value creation (innovation and differentiation) and value capture (optimization and efficiency in time and cost).

Companies in a variety of industries, such as Volkswagen (automotive), Cobra Golf (consumer goods), and Parmatech (manufacturing) are harnessing the benefits of Metal Additive Manufacturing.

For example - Volkswagen turned to HP Metal Jet technology to look for ways to accelerate car part production.

According to Dr. Martin Goede, Head of Technology Planning and Development at Volkswagen: “By reducing the cycle time for the production of parts, we can realize a higher volume of mass production very quickly.…HP’s new Metal Jet platform is a huge leap forward for the industry, and we look forward to raising the bar on what is possible to deliver more value and innovation for our customers.”

Want to continue learning?




Footnotes and disclaimers

  1. Data courtesy of GKN Metallurgy
  2. Data courtesy of Schneider Electric