The Höganäs Group has been around for a long time, having been established as a coal mining company in 1797. Since then, the company has gone on to become a global leader in metal powder production – an area that has naturally led to additive manufacturing for many companies. A few years ago, Höganäs acquired Digital Metal, a small company with a proprietary binder jetting technology of the same name. Digital Metal technology is known for its high-precision metal objects, and it has shown itself to be popular – the company has produced about 200,000 components for customers in various industries including aerospace, luxury goods, dental tools and industrial equipment.

Now customers can 3D print those components for themselves, as Digital Metal is making its binder jetting 3D printer, the DM P2500, commercially available, joining the growing ranks of metal inkjet 3D printers on the market. According to Digital Metal, the DM P2500 is capable of making smaller, more intricate parts than any other technology, and is ideal for both serial production and customized parts. For example, watchmaker Montfort asked Digital Metal to 3D print the dials for its Swiss Alps-inspired watches; the binder jetting technology was the only manufacturing method that allowed them to obtain the crystalline, rock-like structure they wanted.

The DM P2500 can print continuously in 42 µm layers at a rate of 100 cc/hr. Support structures are not required, and it has a print volume of 2500 x 2500 x 2500 cm. Up to 50,000 parts can be produced in one print run, with complex geometries and finishes of medical grade smoothness. The printer is also capable of producing moving parts within other objects and gradients of holes in a single print. Parts 3D printed with the DM P2500 have a resolution of 35 µm and an average surface roughness of Ra 6 µm before additional surface finishing processes.

A lot of companies are saying they can do everything; we’re not. If you have a precision piece you need made that’s tiny this is a great solution for it,” Digital Metal Additive Manufacturing Lead Rachel Spieczny told 3DPrint.com. 

Key parts that I’m always highlighting about are technology are, first, no support structures are needed when printing. That’s huge in making best use of the build box, as you can pack a number of items right next to each other. There’s shrinkage so no worry about anything expanding, you can put two items within about .5 millimeters of each other, you can pack the whole thing tightly to really use all available space. The second piece is that the metal powder can be recycled, because there’s no heating occurring during the printing process.”

Digital Metal 3D printing can be adapted for several different materials, as sintering happens after printing. Furthermore, material reusability means high yield, low scrap rates, and minimal downtime, and the powder does not degenerate.

“Our heritage, knowledge and experience in metal powders combined with the development and evolution of our cutting-edge printer technology has enabled us to succeed where others have failed. With the DM P2500 we are bringing to market a tried and tested 3D metal printer with the capability to produce objects with unparalleled accuracy and surface finish at high volume – from day one we delivered one-off parts in large volumes,” said Ralf Carlström, General Manager of Digital Metal.

“The Digital Metal business has doubled year on year since its inception, however we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of the potential this technology offers for designers and engineers. We’ve seen relatively small (but previously unachievable) changes to the internal structure of components result in a 30% improvement in overall product efficiency, which would have been impossible to produce using conventional methods. As the design and engineering community begin to explore and understand what our highly repeatable and reliable technology enables, we believe we will see huge demand for this technology. By making the printers commercially available we hope to facilitate and fuel that demand.”

The company has indeed been responding to demand, as Spieczny noted that with the growth in metal additive manufacturing activity customers have been using higher volumes of metal powders as the technology makes its way into manufacturing. As part of Höganäs, Digital Metal is able to take advantage of years of expertise in metal powder production and apply it to precision 3D printing.

“What we’ve seen in the past six or eight months is people are really starting to ask questions about the price of powder because they’re starting to print in higher volumes whereas a few years ago people were just printing prototypes and some random piece with titanium, they weren’t going through that much of it,” she told us. “A lot of companies have started to look beyond prototyping, and now in production the price of powders is important to them. A key to what Digital Metal offers is that powder can be recycled, and as companies start producing more parts it’s going to be really important to reuse that powder.”

Without the need for support structures and the ability to reuse material, Digital Metal is able to reassure customers of the best use for metal powders.

Just now people are starting to create in higher and higher volumes. It hasn’t been a huge issue in the past, but if you’re creating 50,000 pieces with support structures that’s a huge amount of waste you’re creating,” Spieczny told 3DPrint.com. “Granted the Digital Metal parts are tiny, so it’s not a huge volume of powder like in other processes where they’re making two foot by two foot metal objects.”

Digital Metal will continue to offer its production services, but meanwhile, interested customers can either purchase or license the DM P2500 from the company. The first printer to be installed outside of Digital Metal was confidentially licensed to a fashion design company whose serial production items will be available at the end of this year. The second external printer installation was set up in June of this year at the Centre Technique des Industries Mécaniques (CETIM), France’s benchmark institute and technological innovation hub for mechanical engineering. CETIM began production with the licensed machine two days after installation, and reports consistently good results so far.

“Now it’s time to open the market by allowing other businesses and manufacturers to take advantage of our proprietary technology and know-how,” Carlström continued. “From designers that crave more freedom to industries that hoard spare parts that are never used, we want to shake up their thinking for future product design and maintenance. Items can be printed on-demand, in the singular or en masse.”

Digital Metal is also exploring several joint 3D printing projects with Honeywell Aerospace.

“The binder jetting technology Digital Metal uses to print small metal parts has the potential for various applications within the Honeywell Aerospace program,” said Don Godfrey, Engineering Fellow – Additive Manufacturing, Honeywell Aerospace. “We believe this will also be critical to applications in other key areas of the broader aerospace industry.”

In addition to the DM P2500, Digital Metal provides customers with the required ancillary equipment as well as introductory and ongoing training and support. The company is currently in talks with partners to facilitate product distribution and support across the world. Digital Metal will be at the TCT Show, where we’re looking forward to meeting them, held in Birmingham from September 26 to 28, as well as formnext, which is taking place in Frankfurt from November 14 to 17. The new, full Digital Metal website will launch publicly on September 26 as TCT Show kicks off.

Discuss this story and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com, or share your thoughts below. 

[Note: this article has been updated since original publication to include insights from Rachel Spieczny]

 

[Source/Images: Höganäs Group]

 

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