One of the 3D metal printer vendors you may not have encountered is Insstek.
The Korea-based company launched in 2001 as a spin off of the South Korean atomic energy research program, but soon developed a method of 3D printing in metal they call “DMT”, or Direct Metal Tooling.
The DMT process involves a high power laser that blasts fine metal powder as it exits the nozzle. The particles melt, and upon impact they (mostly) stick to the target surface.
This approach has some significant advantages over typical powder-bed laser approaches, the main one being you do not require specialty metal powders and can instead use more commonly available industrial metal powders.
Insstek says the cost of powders for their equipment is typically 3-5X less expensive than those used on powder bed laser systems. This could be very significant, as the price of powdered metals can be extremely pricey. Example: USD$500 for a single kg of titanium. Imagine the cost difference when you pay only USD$100 for that kg.
Another interesting advantage is the ability to 3D print in multiple materials - in metal. This cannot be done in powder bed laser approaches. The Insstek system includes up to three hoppers of powder that can be mixed during printing.
They say they can handle almost any metal powders available using their system.
Insstek insists their prints are of very high quality, and this may be due to their extensive use of closed loop control systems within their equipment. These enable real time monitoring and adjustment of system parameters for optimum results.
Currently they offer five models: MX-400 (shown above), MX-600, MX-1000, MX-Grande and the newer MX-Mini. While the same DMT process takes place in each, the differences are largely around the build volume and footprint.
The MX-Grande is a custom-designed unit that can take on a maximum build volume of an incredible 4000 x 1000 x 1000mm. It’s like four MX-1000’s tied together, and offers six-axis motion.
The smallest model is the MX-Mini, which has a mere 200 x 200 x 200 build volume, tiny compared to the rest of their equipment line. However, that if that build size is what you require, then this machine could be right for you.
We’re told the company is developing a hybrid machine that would combine 3D printing and CNC milling. This would theoretically enable you to smooth the surface of your metal 3D prints in the same machine, significantly simplifying the operational workflow.
They intend to release this hybrid machine by end of this year.
Insstek sells machines mostly in Japan and Korea, but they are expanding their scope widely. I suspect one of their main their target markets will be medical implants, as their CEO is actually a trained orthopedist.