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Are you exploring 3D printed titanium yet?

Metal 3D printing was a far-off dream for many manufacturing professionals for a number of years, but now it is not only possible, but easily achievable for most AM operations. This means prototypes and production can be delivered in a range of high-quality metals. One of the most exciting options available nowadays is 3D printed titanium. Today, we’ll be looking at this material’s potential advantages, and the key things you need to know to get the most out of its capabilities.

 

Why 3D print in titanium?

Titanium is already used in a wide range of sectors, such as aerospace, automotive, and medical. Any industry where parts must be light, strong and resistant to corrosion is likely to be making use of this metal. It is also a popular choice for jewellery, due to its biocompatible qualities.

Above all, 3D printing in titanium allows you to continue making use of a versatile, dependable material, while enjoying the speed and cost savings that additive manufacturing can deliver. When printing titanium, there are no economies of scale when it comes to the number of parts produced, or the complexity of the design in question. This means it becomes feasible to produce functional prototypes or one-off customised designs in this metal — something that would rarely be the case with traditional subtractive methods.

Furthermore, titanium is familiar. It is a well-established material whose properties are well-understood across multiple industries. This means you can explore the potential benefits of additive manufacturing technology while enjoying complete confidence that the finished parts will behave reliably and display the qualities you have come to expect. Indeed, Boeing are already making use of this technology to potentially save up to $3 million per aircraft.

 

The technologies

3D printed titanium begins life in a powder form, so it can be utilised in processes like DMLS, EBM and SLM. This means that if you are planning on printing with titanium on a regular basis, you will need to invest in a powder bed printer that is able to work with metal materials. For industrial applications, 3D Systems’ ProX DMP 320, or EOS’ M280 and M290 3D printers would both be good options.

 

The materials

There are two main types of titanium used for additive manufacturing applications:

  • Grade 5 6Al-4V. This is the most common choice for functional parts in the aerospace and automotive fields. However, it is highly versatile and handles complex geometries extremely well, and so can be used for a wide range of other applications.
  • Grade 23 6Al-4V. This is a biocompatible alloy that is widely used in the medical sector to craft implants and prostheses.

 

What you need to know

If you are planning on printing a part using titanium, it’s important to be aware from the outset that there will be a few new elements that must be considered carefully to get the best possible results. Consider the following points at the outset of each project:

  • Remember to factor support structures into your design. As with any 3D printable metal, titanium parts will require support structures in order to avoid warping. Make sure these are accessible so they can be removed easily, and experiment with different part orientations to minimise the need for support. Your software tools should be able to support you in this regard, significantly streamlining this part of the process.
  • If your part requires specific mechanical properties, it is worth investigating the different heat treatments that can be applied during post-processing. Consult your material specifications, as these should offer advice on what treatments can be applied and what results you should expect.
  • Metal printing uses very high temperatures in order to melt the powder, so avoid any fragile elements, as these can easily warp during printing, even with the use of supports. As a good rule of thumb, use a wall thickness of at least 1mm.
  • Look at ways of recycling your leftover materials. Despite the potential cost savings it can offer, the raw materials used for 3D printing titanium are still very expensive, so aim to minimise material waste as much as possible, while being sure to avoid powder corruption, as this will affect the quality of future prints.
  • Don’t be surprised if your part doesn’t have the shiny chrome look that titanium typically has when it’s removed from the powder bed. This is simply part of the printing process. A little polishing will give your part a sleek, glossy finish.

 

If you’d previously considered creating a part or prototype in titanium, but abandoned the idea due to cost or time restraints, 3D printing offers the ideal solution. With new printing technology making 3D printed titanium parts more accessible than ever, we expect it to quickly become a standard part of manufacturing workflows.