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Bloomfield, N.J. 07003
Phone: (973) 338-6500

The Use of Furnaces in 3D Printing

Fast forward this topic to 2023 and we see that 3D furnaces are fixture in manufacturing operations all over the world. While many are used to make plastic prototypes for form-fit-function testing the cost of metal 3D printing has dropped dramatically over the last few years to the point where almost any serious metal shop can dabble in 3D printing as an alternative to small volume MIM style production.

The entry-level of metal 3D printing technology is FDM, or fused deposition modeling with filament. This is using a polymer filament infused with more than 85% metal powder. In the past three years, its popularity has exploded. The floor for decent machines that can make working parts in a small machine shop go for about $1500, though sophisticated high throughput machines costing near 1 million are available!

Metal filament for use on desktop 3D printers has expanded access to 3D printing metal for a wide audience that had been priced out of the technology in the past. Today, although it’s still relatively new, printing with metal filament is used for everything from small replacement parts to prototypes. Yes, these are real metal parts applicable for many end-use applications.

As was true 5 years ago, the most common production grade methods are still  Powder Bed Fusion, or Direct Energy Deposition methods. Both these methods require a sintering phase where the printed part is purged of catalysts, and non-uniformities introduced during the printing process. With proper software and IT support these processes can be customized and managed to a high degree.

3D Printing Processes – Powder Bed Melting

Known by many names, powder bed melting is still the most common type of metal 3D printing. These machines distribute a fine layer of powder over a build plate and selectively melt a cross section of the part into the powder layer. There are two distinct types of powder bed melting techniques: Selective Laser Melting and Electron Beam Melting. Powder bed fusion systems are designed to control both the energy source and the distribution of powder.

powder bed fusion process
A diagram of the powder bed fusion process. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Less common but also used are Directed energy deposition (DED) and binder jetting are also used to 3D print metal objects. In the case of the former, powder or a metal wire feedstock is introduced to an energy source. In the case of the latter, a liquid binder is deposited onto a bed of metal powder. After the print is complete, the object is heat treated and sintered in a furnace.

DED processes
Various configurations of DED processes. (Images courtesy of Wikipedia.)

A Sintering Furnace Solution for 3D Printing

Despite the fact that the best 3d Metal Printing Systems cost north of $300K, the 3d printed parts still require careful thermal sintering and/or heat treatment to help them achieve proper size, hardness and density. This is regardless of what process produces them. Failure to manage this critical finishing step properly can yield parts with internal flaws that compromise integrity, or parts that require excessive mechanical finishing.

Selecting a Furnace for finishing your parts is largely a function of what kinds of metals your will process (temperature), what kind of atmosphere you will heat them in, (air, hydrogen, nitrogen), and what kind of throughput you need in your production or lab environment.

Here are a couple of the most common CM furnaces used in the finishing of 3d metal printed parts:

CM Rapid Temp Series – One of the most flexible furnace designs on the market, these batch fBox Furnace Typesurnaces come in box furnace or tube furnace forms in multiple sizes. Available with sealed atmosphere chambers and temperature ranges from 1200 to 1800 degrees Celsius.

CM 400 series continuous furnace – This furnace is a better choice for medium to high volume production environments. With multiple heating zones, atmosphere sealed chambers, and sophisticated thermal profile automation, the furnace is both reliable and customizable.

All CM furnaces are designed and manufactured right here in the USA. For more information on furnaces suitable for your 3D printing process, contact CM furnaces today.


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