It used to be that metal 3d printing was primarily for small volume, low throughput applications like dental implants and jet engine parts. Fast forward to today, where 3D printer capabilities allow manufacturing lines that can achieve mid to high volume throughput. This brings metal 3D printing closer to mainstream production requirements when considering furnaces and heat treatment of additively manufactured metal parts.
Commercial metal parts are 3D printed using aluminium, stainless steel, brass, copper, bronze, sterling silver, gold, platinum, titanium, tool steel, etc. A thermal sintering furnace phase, where printed parts are purged of catalysts, and non-uniformities introduced during the 3D printing process, is required.
A key consideration for this sintering phase is the ability to support the appropriate atmospheres such as hydrogen, argon, or other inert gases to facilitate processing such a wide range of materials.
In additive manufacturing, a distinction is made between printing with and without a binder. The EOS DMLS Metal 3D printers use a powder bed without the need for a binder, whereas the Markforged Metal X (Metal FFF) uses a binder. Depending on the manufacturing process, different furnace types are used for subsequent heat treatment.
Furnaces with the proper technology and recipes are capable of removing the binder, then starting the sintering process immediately afterward. In the case of Direct Metal Laser Sintering printed parts, heat treatment furnaces are used for stress relieving and annealing processes in order to achieve the best possible material homogeneity and quality.
Failure to manage this critical finishing step properly can yield parts with internal flaws that compromise integrity, or parts that require excessive mechanical finishing. The quality of the sintering furnace impacts the whole additive manufacturing process chain — thermal stability and insulation are critical to reliably produce parts that perform as required without additional post-processing steps.
Rapid 3D represents the Nabertherm range of additive manufacturing sintering furnaces in South Africa. Nabertherm offers a range of additive manufacturing sintering furnaces that support low volume to medium and high volume, automated work-flows.