In addition to the major plastic 3D printer manufacturers appearing at Euromold 2012, quite a few metal 3D printer manufacturers also exhibited. Metal printing might be unfamiliar to many of our readers who focus on more inexpensive plastic machines.
Metal-capable machines are typically quite expensive and are varied in features and abilities. At Euromold we saw machines from Phenix, EOS, ExOne, Realizer, ConceptLaser, SLM and others. Typically they illuminate a bed of powdered metal with a laser to fuse the layers of the printed object.
What can you print? We observed machines capable of 3D printing ultra-highly detailed metal jewelry, while others were able to form very strong industrial parts. Different manufacturers offered various materials, including steel, titanium and exotic plastics (which also work in this powder process). Realizer also offered powdered precious metals, so you can literally print 3D objects in solid gold. Or platinum.
Generally metal printing involves some form of powder-based printing in which tiny metal particles are fused together. You can get a feel for this sometimes multi-step process by watching this video from ExOne.
Sound interesting? Want to get started printing in metal? You'd best check your wallet, as the price of metal machines is quite a bit more than typical plastic machines. For example, the low-end SLM machine from Realizer starts at €120,000 and more capable machines can be €500,000 to €1,000,000 or more. Then you have to purchase the print material, which can be €300 per kg.
Unless it's gold. Ouch!