3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), refers to a suite of different technologies used to generate components via gradual addition of materials rather than subtraction.
The term subtractive manufacturing is a catchall for engineering techniques that use successive removal of material (cutting, grinding, etc.) to generate shapes and components from a workpiece. Available part shapes are dictated by the practical subtractive manufacturing processes rather than by the shapes that would provide optimum performance.
For example: It is notoriously difficult to machine complex internal geometries into a bulk material and as a result, parts are commonly broken-up into separate individual pieces that can be machined separately. However, by using some 3D printing techniques, these complex internal geometries can be produced as a single part that eliminates the need for assembly.
3D printing is a novel solution to this problem, opening new avenues of possibility from rapid prototyping up to manufacturing with technical materials.
How Does 3D Printing Work?
Although there are many different forms of 3D printers, most adhere to the same basic principles. The first requirement is a three-dimensional CAD (computer-aided design) file which acts as the digital blueprint for the net workpiece. Dedicated software systems separate this file into vertical slices; extremely thin 2D layers that provide the coordinates for subsequent CNC (computer numerical control) deposition. How this deposition is carried out depends on the type of 3D printing process.
H.C. Starck Solutions specializes in the production of intricate 3D components comprised of high-performance refractory metals like molybdenum (Mo), tantalum (Ta), and tungsten (W), generated using powder metal and wire feedstocks rather than filaments. There are several methods available for creating thin sequential layers from refractory metal powders, but the typical nozzle-deposition technique is unsuitable. Instead, we use a powder bed and a high power laser to fuse individual layers together in-line with the original CAD file. This layer-by-layer fusion technique allows us to generate unique 3D structures that satisfy the various demands of extremely challenging application areas.
This technique is just one of four distinct 3D printing methods that H.C. Starck currently specializes in.
Benefits & Drawbacks of 3D Printing
Since the inception of additive manufacturing at the industrial, and even the domestic scale, reactions to the technology have often verged on hyperbolic. Many have even drawn parallels with comments made by revered futurist Arthur C. Clarke about the forthcoming invention of – what he termed – the replicator; a machine capable of recreating anything based on imagery. While the 3D printer has yet to reach the heights of re-creating “anything”, the technology has matured significantly in recent years.
With vast improvements in the materials and processes available for 3D printing, one of the primary limitations now is scaling the technology to produce consistent quality on a manufacturing scale. Provided sufficient part-to-part quality can be developed, 3D printing can provide numerous benefits to part performance that will improve material efficiency, eliminate unnecessary assembly steps, reduce manufacturing time and improve overall value to the customer.
3D Printing Applications
There are now myriad different formats of the technology available for large-scale industry, proprietary market sectors, and even at-home hobbyists. In the industrial space, 3D printing is now serving a key role in markets as varied as:
- Aerospace & Defence
- Industrial Processing
H.C. Starck Solutions: Experts in Technical 3D Printing
H.C. Starck Solutions manufactures high-performance technical materials for demanding areas of application. Our additive-manufactured refractory metals have been used in extremely challenging markets, including aerospace and defense. We pride ourselves on our ability to select the correct technique per application, supporting optimal results acquisition regardless of downstream requirements.
We have dedicated a wealth of resources in expanding our additive manufacturing capabilities to provide unique solutions to the challenges of engineers today. Currently, we are able to provide both semi-finished and finished goods generated via high-precision 3D printing, and powders as feedstocks. If you would like to learn more about our processes, simply contact a member of the H.C. Starck Solutions team today.