June 19, 2019
Until recently, 3D printing with metal has been limited to sintering or powder 3D printing. Essentially, metal powder is bound together using high powered lasers, and then the parts are post-processed in a kiln or forge to produce nearly 100% solid metal parts. These machines, materials, and the post-processing needed to produce parts are expensive to own ($100,000+ for entry-level machines), and cost-prohibitive for the general public. You could easily spend over $1000 for a few small parts.
Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printing has been around for a few decades now and is well established, but is generally limited to thermoplastics. Metal Injection Molding (MIM) has been around for a while as well, and is now a common manufacturing process. You have almost certainly used a tool or device recently that had MIM components in it (cordless drill, watch, car parts or even keys).
Now the FFF and MIM processes are joining forces to introduce metal filament to desktop 3D printing. BASF’s Ultrafuse 316L filament is a metal filament that is specifically designed to be debound and sintered, leaving your printed part nearly 100% solid 316 stainless steel. The best part about this material is that it can be printed on virtually any desktop 3D printer, like the BCN3D Sigmax R19, Ultimaker S5, Pulse, or any 3D printer with the right upgrades.
BASF Ultrafuse 316L Metal-polymer filament, developed by BASF’s 3D Printing Solutions team, produces metal components in an austenitic stainless steel type 316L using standard FFF printer systems and subsequently an industry standard debinding and sintering process. The material itself (in filament form) is over 80% 316L stainless steel with a base material that is a polymer used to bind the material together during the printing process. This formulation, combined with the debinding and sintering process, results in full metal austenitic stainless steel type 316L 3D printed parts which can really open up doors to new applications.
Before we get started with the how-to process of printing with metal on your 3D printer, here are some terms you’ll want to familiarize yourself with:
There are a few reasons you may be interested in printing with metal using a desktop 3D printer. First, if you are currently producing metal parts, prototyping through traditional milling methods, and have the need for low volume injection molded parts, consider using BASF Ultrafuse 316L 3D printing filament.
Second would be if you simply need more strength and durability compared to your plastic 3D printed parts. Transitioning to metal parts is now easier and more accessible than it ever has been by using Ultrafuse 316L on your desktop 3D printer. This material is specifically designed for manufacturers, small business owners, or anyone looking to produce metal components on a smaller scale without all the complexity of conventional CNC milling or MIM procedures.
Let's take a moment to guide you through the important considerations for succeeding with metal desktop 3D printing.
Along with anisotropic shrinking, there are other design elements that need to be considered for succeeding with desktop metal 3D printing. These recommendations are intended to provide guidance in order to succeed early on. As expertise progresses, these rules can be adjusted for your specific designs and use cases.
Parts shrink anisotropically in the debinding and sintering process. That means they shrink at different rates along different axes. Parts need to be scaled +120% (+119.82% for more accuracy) of the required final dimension in X/Y, and +126% (+126.10% for more accuracy) of the required final dimension in Z. This can be done easily in the MatterControl scaling function by deselecting “maintain proportions”, choosing “Use Percentage”, and then entering 119.82 in X and Y, and 126.1 in Z.
In order to print with Ultrafuse 316L filament, your desktop 3D printer will need to be equipped with the proper components
BASF Ultrafuse 316L 3D Printing Filament Settings
It’s critically important that your first layer is at the proper height so that all printed lines are completely connected to one another. We've found that Dimafix bed adhesive provides the strong bed adhesion necessary for ideal flat prints. It’s also important that your extruder is properly calibrated so that there are no areas of under-extrusion within the part. Gaps and voids can cause failure in the debinding and sintering process.
It is important to remove any contaminants - oils, fingerprints, bed adhesives, etc. because contaminants can cause failure during debinding and sintering.
Green Parts printed from Ultrafuse 316L 3D Printing Filament are very easy to clean-up as it is relatively soft. Remove brims, clean up any printing artifacts left from the printing process. A razor blade, deburring tool, and a small file set are recommended for clean-up. It’s much easier to clean up the green part than the metal part.
If any warping occurred during the 3D printing process - now is a good time to sand the base surface of your part flat. ‘Lapping’ the bottom surface will have the part process through the debinding and sintering steps with greater feature and dimensional stability.
Send to Sintering and Debinding Service House - There are service houses that are set up with all the proper tools and materials to succeed with Metal Injection Molding, debinding, and sintering. Simply print and clean your part, mail it off, and wait for it to return in just a few days after a scheduled run.
In-house - Access the proper debinding and sintering industrial-level equipment and materials, which can cost up to a fortune for professionals just getting into additive metal manufacturing. Successfully operating these machines will require proper knowledge and particular skill sets.
Sintered parts can, generally, be treated like any other 316L Stainless Steel part. When received back they have a relatively rough metal surface finishing. The parts can be polished to a shiny surface, ground for material removal, or even machined for greater tolerance and fitment. We’ve had great success with roto tumbling parts in an abrasive media to bring out the materials’ luster.
If you, your business, or manufacturing process is looking to rapidly create prototype or production metal parts without spending the traditional time and cost of machining expensive consumables, then desktop 3D printing with BASF Ultrafuse 316L Metal 3D Printing Filament is the best choice for you. Using this material on a standard desktop 3D printer is a cost-effective alternative to typical subtractive methods or setup and tooling costs of metal injection molding.
As 3D printing becomes more widely available to the average consumer, its capabilities and possibilities also expand. Attainable industrial materials on the market such as the BASF Ultrafuse 316L Metal 3D Printing Filament make 3D printing metal more affordable and easier for any maker passionate about advanced prototyping. When engineering-grade plastics such as NylonX and NylonG have satisfied the early rounds of designing and testing a project, makers can then move on to producing metal parts for an even more advanced 3D printing experience. Do more with your time and creativity when you dive into the world of 3D printing metal.
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