Find out how to make the most of this game-changing technique

How does a 3D printer work? As it turns out, fairly similarly to its 2D counterpart: digital files are sent to the printer, which then deposits ink to form the required result. The main difference is that this “ink” can be a liquid or solid material, and the deposited layers are built up successively to produce a 3D object. 3D printing is part of a larger manufacturing trend: additive manufacturing (AM). Although the terms ‘AM’ and ‘3D printing’ are often used interchangeably, AM encompasses a far wider range of technologies than just 3D printing – including powder bed processes such as selective laser melting.

What different AM methods have in common, though, is that they can deliver huge advantages in sustainability, efficiency, and flexibility. As an additive process, AM inherently requires less raw material consumption than subtractive processes. Parts produced through AM can also be made lighter and more complex, delivering efficiency during use. What’s more, its potential for small-batch production enables greater customization, shorter production times, and more secure supply chains.

The right materials for the right processes

Of course, materials are critical to the success of AM. In particular, manufacturers need to select the right materials for the specific AM process used. That’s because AM materials must be suitable for that process, compatible with any additional processing required, and of course, deliver the required performance characteristics in the final product. Take powder bed fusion, for example. Metal powders used for this process must pack and flow efficiently and have the correct melt characteristics. Likewise, when it comes to binder jetting, binders must be chosen carefully, since their residue can affect the purity and properties of the final part.

Small particles, big significance

But there’s more to material selection. In AM, processes normally operate with fixed parameters – so inconsistent material properties produce inconsistent finished component properties. This means manufacturers must not only choose the right type of material, they must also ensure their batches are of consistently high quality.

How can they do this? With strong material characterization processes! This is particularly important in metal powder bed AM, where an especially large number of features affect final product properties. Without careful material characterization and optimization, these metal parts are prone to cracks, weaknesses, distortion, and poor surface finishes. And material characterization isn’t just useful for manufacturers: it can also support the development of new materials that are specially optimized for AM.

Strong material selection solutions

That’s why we provide a range of material characterization solutions – especially for metal powder bed processes. Take our laser diffraction and automated imaging systems for particle size and shape analysis. For the best results, powder particles should be spherical with optimum size distribution. By optimizing their powders accordingly, manufacturers can achieve the best flowability and packing.

In addition, our X-ray fluorescence (XRF) solutions enable manufacturers to analyze chemical composition and check for contamination in the alloys they use. These solutions allow manufacturers to avoid common problems in metal AM, such as micro-cracks, and we offer them in both floor-standing and benchtop systems.

Finally, we offer X-ray diffraction (XRD) solutions to help manufacturers analyze the microstructure of their metal powders. These crystalline phases and grain structures are a critical element in metal powder bed AM, significantly affecting the final part’s mechanical properties. By measuring and optimizing microstructure accordingly, manufacturers can ensure optimum ductility, fatigue response, and texture in their final products – in line with those produced conventionally.

To find out more about how our material characterization solutions enable high-performance AM processes, take a look at our whitepaper and additive manufacturing website pages. Or, discover how our solutions for additive manufacturing can help find the answers you need to improve process efficiency and end-product quality. Request a live demo now!

If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to read our other AM stories which we’ve listed for your convenience in this blog: A look back at this year’s best additive manufacturing blogs.