BASF’s Forward AM unit has launched 17-4 PH metal filaments for FDM printers. 17-4 PH is a widely used stainless steel that can cover many applications in mechanical engineering and industry. With their metal thread, you can print on popular FDM printers such as BCN3D or Prusa machines and then debond and sinter the part to get a metal component.
The filament contains two binders. First you print the so-called “green part”, which is then catalytically deboned and becomes a “brown part”. Next, the second binder is removed by sintering in an oven. After finishing by polishing or some other process.
The process is quite difficult overall, but this could be an important way to make inexpensive metal parts in the future. in competition with binder jetting and lost wax casting. The company mentions tools, jigs and fixtures. End-use parts and prototypes as possible applications. Firat Hizal, Head of Metal Systems Group, BASF 3D Printing Solutions, said about the new product:
“Ultrafuse 17-4 PH is an outstanding result of our strong research and development commitment. We filamented more than 10 different metals from titanium to tool steels and various alternative materials for printing support structures this year. We will continue to introduce the new filaments that the market and our customers are demanding. “
In addition to 17-4 PH, the company also offers 316L steel. It’s exciting to see them working on titanium and tool steels as well. BASF has been pushing for this technology to become a public reality since 2018, and if committed, it can still happen.
I’ve always been excited, but reluctant, about the prospect for FDM metal filaments. The long-term prospects of metal filaments for making inexpensive metal parts are good. However, parts need to be printed, deboned, and sintered. Shrinkage occurs in these processes, which is often difficult to explain. Also, in many environments it can be difficult to debinding internally.
In addition, inexpensive debinding and sintering devices are not widely used. Nabertherm ovens are great, but expensive for some. The French company Zetamix, which specializes in ceramics using a similar method, also has the equipment. I still think that metal filaments are a process that is too difficult for most companies right now (they use formaldehyde, for example). Suppliers need to provide more integrated equipment and solutions, and more adjustment and shrinking needs to be done. To see how a novice struggles with such technology, read Michael Molitch-Hous’s review of Copper Filament by The Virtual Foundry.
In the short term, I am skeptical of the immediate prospects of this technology. In the long run, however, this could be a great technology and application for FDM systems to make series of spares and other parts. FDM systems are numerous and a chaotic innovation system has emerged, with competition lowering prices in the lower end of the range while more powerful pro machines flourish at the corporate level. This competitive system is impressive and growing rapidly in terms of installed base and features.
As soon as the providers in this area see the path to series production of some components, they will access it. Print hard with metal instead of printing hard like metal. With metal filaments as well as full settings, better shrinkage estimates, and a sintering oven and debinding station, most 3D printers can print metal parts. We still have to find the right applications and post-processing, but that could be huge.
To do this, someone has to face the obvious task of producing inexpensive debinding and sintering furnaces. This has not yet happened. Currently, Markforged is the only company that offers a complete solution that is also suitable for this FDM filament. I would urge them to sell their stoves and debdinders to the rest of the market.
In addition, however, other companies would have to join the fight. This would be a great product addition for a furnace company, 3D printing OEM, or a new startup. Currently, few make the equipment a small engineering company could use to do this in their garage. There is simply no such thing as proven. A line of products that you can buy that your small metal shop can use to print metal parts. Although used laboratory equipment is often a good source. It’s worth noting that The Virtual Foundry, which Molitch-Hou also interviewed for his 3D Printing for Preppers series, has started selling ovens for their wide portfolio of 3D metal filaments made of metal.
I think manufacturing and selling this process chain is a significant opportunity for a company. I also think metal 3D printing filaments need to get really big for some vendors to venture into this space to make this possible. Shrinkage is problematic, but the rest of the equation worked with known requirements.
At the same time, we also need a good fit for these parts at their prices. For example a spare part that has been tested worldwide and printed at three locations as a “B-sided” metal part in a series of 1 to 10,000 and is less than 5 cm in size and does not require super-flat surfaces. Something in this area would be a good example.
In the video below you can see a use case for the 17-4 material with the spare parts company Sparox. It’s in Austrian, but the video shows the parts pretty well (I also didn’t think Austrian was a language until I heard this). I also like their use for spare parts outside of production, such as B. Clips for solar panels and tool inserts.
In collaboration with Sparox and the like, BASF is expanding the ecosystem for this material and showing some examples of real live fires of these parts in the wild. At the same time, the company is quite innovative in solving the problem of the unavailability of inexpensive, safe debinding and sintering furnaces. The company lets you upload and order parts with metal filaments from the Sculpteo 3D printing service.
This is a great decision that a company or person can use to inexpensively evaluate whether this technology is suitable for their application. If you are a company that uses metal parts or metal spares, I urge you to give it a try. It will be difficult, but if it works for you these parts are incredibly cheap to make. Of course, I still don’t like this for individual parts, but I think it will work for some series.
At the same time, you can buy the filament, print the part, and send it to a dealer for the part to be delivered and printed. That way, before you spend a lot of time researching if this might work, you can just invest in a roll and some time and see if a part will work on your printer. BASF also offers simulation services to help you meet the challenge of getting your geometry right. All three services will significantly reduce time to market and help customers evaluate this as a technology quickly and cost effectively. It’s really great to see how BASF is implementing this offer.
The following three videos are a great introduction to this path to metal printing. Many of the topics are discussed and explained very clearly.