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3D Printing in Aluminum – The Complete Guide

Aluminum is great for the aerospace, and automotive industries, and it is lightweight, recyclable, and can resist chemicals. With 3D printing, these awesome qualities get even better. You can design things in new ways and cost-effectively. So 3d printing and aluminum are making stuff in these industries.

These parts maked by Aluminum 3d printing

From car parts to satellite dishes, 3D printing with aluminum is getting popular with new 3D printing aluminum materials. With more 3D printer choices available, making both pure aluminum parts and alloy ones is easier. Aluminum parts made with 3D printing often have better qualities than those made traditionally. Plus, you can create intricate shapes that regular manufacturing can't handle.

Advantages of 3D Printing Aluminum

3D printed aluminum engine block
3D printed aluminum engine block model [Source: ExOne]

Aluminum is a top choice for many industries including the aerospace and automotive sectors because it is resistant to chemicals, super lightweight, and has great strength. But when you throw in 3D printing it gets even better.

With 3D printing aluminum, you can make parts with hidden channels and features that you can not achieve with traditional methods. Plus, you can print a bunch of parts as one piece, saving you time and making the final product easily.

Another great thing about 3D printing is that it's not wasteful. When you are using materials, cutting down on waste is a great deal. This is especially good in the aerospace industry, where they are always trying to make their manufacturing processes more efficient. Traditional methods like casting or machining 3d printing aluminum can be pricier, especially in small batches, and use more energy during fabrication.

In addition to these advantages, 3d printing on metal is also an economical choice when you need just one part and low volume and custom parts quickly and affordably and emerging technology continues to make both larger production runs and lower operational costs a reality.

How to 3D Printing Aluminum

metals involved can include aluminum 3d printing
metal powder for 3D printing (Source-makepartsfast)

Aluminum is a metal that can be used in almost all types of 3D printing methods. Each method has an advantage and is different in speed, size, level of detail, and all materials used.

There are some laser-printing metals used.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
Binder Jetting
Cold Metal Fusion
Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM)

Among these, FDM is the most affordable option for printing aluminum parts. only two companies currently offer aluminum metal filament for FDM printing: The Virtual Foundry and Zetamix. With FDM, some post-processing steps are needed to ensure the final part is mostly made of metal. This method requires post-processing steps to achieve a more than 90% metal part. It’s the cheapest way to get an aluminum part since aluminum filament will work on most desktop FDM printers, but these are most commonly used for decorative and prototype metal parts rather than functional ones.

Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF)

Laser Powder Bes Fusion (LPBF) is a popular method of aluminum 3D printing technology, but not all printers using this technology can print aluminum. The printing settings need to be just right to get good results, and the LPBF printing parameters must be optimized and tuned to control porosity, microstructure, and final material properties. That's why you will see close relationships between the companies that make the materials and those that make the printers.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM)

Electron Beam Melting (EBM) works like Laser Powder Bes Fusion (LPBF) but uses an electron beam instead of a laser. The high process temperature of the electron beam results in slower cooling making the metal's structure less fine compared to LPBF. While pure aluminum doesn't work like EBM, titanium and aluminum do.

Binder Jetting

Binder jetting for aluminum is a technology used for quickly printing medium to large volumes of parts. This method involves using a binder to bond together aluminum powder to create the desired shape. After printing, some post-processing is necessary to finish the parts. Among the manufacturers of metal binder jetting 3D printers, Desktop Metal is the notable one that specializes in printing with aluminum.

Cold Metal Fusion

Cold Metal Fusion (CMF) introduces a new metal 3D printing technology, merging traditional metal manufacturing techniques with the innovation of selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers. It's like adding a smart new ingredient to a familiar recipe, allowing manufacturers to expand the capabilities of their existing machinery.

Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM)

Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technologies help make big aluminum parts quickly, which are refined with precision machining. This method is far cheaper than casting for single, unique parts used in heavy industry.

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