Thanks to recent advances in additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping techniques metal prototypes (even those with complex geometries) can be had in as little as five days.
That’s quite a bit better than waiting a month for a machine shop to create a production cast piece. As a result, metal additive manufacturing is becoming more and more common – especially for functional testing. Faster delivery of prototypes allows multiple designs to be evaluated at once, decreasing time-to-market and offering a real competitive edge.
Because metal rapid prototyping is a relatively new technology, however, we routinely receive questions about different techniques, and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a breakdown of the metal prototyping methods offered by ProtoCAM, including a bit on their history, their use cases, their build specifications and their relative cost.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
DMLS is at the forefront of the metal 3D printing revolution. GE’s LEAP jet engine, for instance, includes one-piece fuel nozzles with internal channels built in place using DMLS, and ProtoCAM has produced a number of gorgeous proprietary medical prototypes using the technology.
The tool-less technique – in which a laser sinters powdered metal material – can produce extremely fine detail and beautiful parts. It is, however, rather expensive compared to other metal prototyping techniques. Unless your project requires an extraordinary level of detail or a particular type of metal only available with DMLS, chances are another metal additive technology will be more than suitable.
Detail: Extremely fine
Surface finish: Very good
Materials: Wide selection
Build size: Small (usually under 9”x9”x12”, depending on material)
Metal casting is a quick and direct way to create identical copies of a single prototype. PolyJet 3D printing or stereolithography Quickcast is used to create a master piece, which is then converted to a sandcast mold or investment casting pattern. Liquid metal is poured into this form and allowed to harden before the mold is removed.
Casting creates the best surface finish out of the two metal prototyping methods, and offers the largest build size – tractor engine blocks, for instance, are often created using metal casting. There are some design constraints with poured metals (geometries cannot be nearly as complex) but when cost is of prime concern, casting can usually get the job done without breaking the bank.
Surface finish: Exceptional
Materials: Wide selection
Build size: Large (up to 29”x26”x26”)
With these details in mind, you should be better able to request a quote for the metal service you need. As always, the engineers at ProtoCAM will guide you through the process, fully evaluating your project to ensure you are using the best rapid prototyping technology for your particular job.
Ready to see what ProtoCAM can do for you? We’ll get you a quote in a few hours.