Professional metal 3D printers can cost from $100,000 and $500,000 and up, which is significantly higher than plastic 3D printers. Not to mention, there are other costs like material expenses, expertise, maintenance, and post-processing equipment that should be factored into the overall investment.
The high costs associated with owning metal printers make it challenging for startups and small to medium-sized businesses to afford. Consequently, most companies opt to outsource the manufacturing of metal parts, commonly utlizing additive manufacturing technologies include direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and selective laser melting (SLM).
So, how much can you expect a metal printing job 3D printing to cost? As an estimate, small and simple DMLS or SLM parts can easily start from $50 to $500. Larger, complex or more intricate builds will require more material, longer print times, longer post processing times and higher labour costs, all contributing to increased expenses. Such parts can cost from $500 to $10,000 to print and post process.
So, why is metal 3D printing so expensive? Apart from the printer and equipment cost, there are many other factors that contribute to the final part price. In the next section, we’ll break them down to help you better understand why your DMLS or SLM printed part costs as much as it does.
Different printing powders have varying costs. Standard aluminium and stainless steel powder typically cost around $50 – $100 per kg, whereas high-performance or specialty metals like nickel super alloy or cobalt chrome, will be more expensive, ranging from approximately $300 to $600 per kg.
Besides cost per kg, suppliers may calculate the cost of metal 3D printing based on the cost per cubic cm or cost per hour. Learn the 3 Most Common Ways Suppliers Calculate the Cost of Your 3D Printed Part.
Different cost-per-hour rates are used for different materials. Some materials like nickel based alloys have superior mechanical properties compared to others, which is reflected in the cost. It’s also worth noting that the hourly rate of a job can be influenced by factors like part complexity, energy consumption and operating costs.
Post-processing of metal 3D printed parts is a labour-intensive and time-consuming operation. Due to the inherent characteristics of metal, removing support structures can be more challenging than with plastic. Achieving a smooth surface finish on metal parts is also often more complex, as additional steps such as abrasive blasting may be required.
Post-process CNC machining may also be necessary to achieve even tighter tolerances for certain features in DMLS and SLM parts, adding to the overall time and contributing to higher costs.
CNC machining is often more cost-effective for manufacturing parts with tight tolerances and solid builds, whereas metal 3D printing allows for more cost-effective ways of building complex geometries, internal features, lattices, or hollow metal parts.
In terms of higher volumes, metal printing costs are not yet able to compete with CNC machining due to the lack of scalability. However, as metal printing technologies continue to mature and automation increases, they are expected to become more competitive with CNC machining.
Metal 3D printing can be expensive; therefore, it’s important to optimize your next design to reduce costs as much as possible. Some of the top design tips include:
Although this article provides a rough estimate, the price of metal printing projects can vary significantly depending on size, complexity, material, and choice of supplier.
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