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Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) - Metal

The most known metal AM technology

Metal Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF), which is often referred to as Selective Laser Melting, is part of the Powder Bed Fusion family and is the most widely used metal process in an industrial context. Over 80% of the installed metal machine base across all industries are LPBF-machines that are used especially for high-end applications, using the design freedom and strong mechanical properties of the technology.

Technology principle

How does Laser Powder Bed Fusion work?

Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) is based on melting of a powder feedstock by exposure with laser radiation. The powder material is applied by a leveling system in a predefined layer thickness to a substrate plate fixed on the build platform. The leveling system can be a blade, brush or roller that applies a predefined amount of powder from a reservoir and spreads it on the substrate plate. Alternatively, the powder container itself is moved across the substrate plate and distributes the powder evenly.

The energy for bonding the powder particles is provided by a laser. The laser beam is directed on the powder bed so that it selectively melts the powder. Machine development started with one laser source and optic, today many production systems use multiple lasers to increase productivity.  For guiding the laser beam, often a mirror deflection system is used. Furthermore, machine systems exist in which the laser is moved via a gantry with multiple axes. These solutions promise to be especially cost-efficient.

Schematic view of the LPBF Process

 

When the exposure process is completed, the build platform is lowered by the amount of the layer thickness and the next powder layer is applied. When re-exposing the next layer, it fuses with the previously generated layer. The process described is repeated until the entire component geometry is generated. The unexposed powder remains loose and can be recycled.

Because of the strong reaction tendency of metallic powders, the process takes place in protective atmosphere. Before starting the process, the build chamber is purged typically with argon or nitrogen, until an oxygen content of less than 0.1 % is reached. Alternatively, machines exist in which the process takes place under vacuum.

The most important process parameters are the laser power, scanning velocity, the layer thickness, the diameter of the laser beam focus and the scan strategy, that defines the pattern in which the powder is exposed. Optimal parameters differ depending on the metal alloy and the powder characteristics.

Read more about this topic in the  Course.

Sinter-based AM technologies and process chain

Sinter-based AM - a technology overview

Many different printing technologies - one sintering process

The sinter-based AM (SBAM) technologies have, as the name suggests, the sintering process in common. In this process, the printed green part is consolidated into a dense part and receives its final properties. The green part can be printed in advance using different technologies.They all have in common that metal powder is bound to the desired shape by a binder. The best-known printing technologies include Binder Jetting and Filament Material Extrusion.

In this section, you learn everything about the sinter-based AM  process chain and get an overview of the different printing technologies.

Goal and structure of this course

This course is aimed at engineers, designers and other professionals that are working closely with sinter-based AM technologies. The goal is to cover the most important aspects that will enable engineers and designers to fully grasp the capabilities and technical limitations of the printing technologies and the sintering process to succeed in technology selection and part design. Besides going through the course from the beginning until the end, this course can also act as a constant source of knowledge while working on AM projects. 

The course is structured into the following sections.

This section will start with an overview of the sinter-based AM process chain and its printing technologies, followed by a technology deep dive into the most important aspects of the BJT technology, followed by a closer look at the debinding and sintering step also including sintering simulation .

The second section will provide an overview of the different materials that are available as well as part characteristics that can be achieved with the BJT process and typical methods for quality assurance. Finally, several common defects in the BJT process are presented. 

The last section will act as a guideline for designers. Besides generally describing the process when designing for Additive Manufacturing, actionable restrictions and guidelines for the BJT process are provided. The final section will present several design examples from different industries. 

What you will find in this section

Sinter-based AM process chain

From digital model to finished part

Data preparation

Simulation to compensate the deformation during the sintering step, nesting of parts and definition of printing parameters

Printing

Through various printing processes, different feedstocks such as metal powders, filaments, pellets or dispersions are processed into green parts

Unpacking

Unpacking of fragile green parts needs to be done carefully and is typically a manual process.

Debinding

Debinding describes the process of removing the binder which results in a brown part

Sintering

To reach the structural integrity of a metal part, a sinter process is required. The powder particles fuse together to a coherent, solid structure via a mass transport that occurs at the atomic scale driven via diffusional forces.

The brown part shrinks ~13-21 % in each direction.

The process chain of sinter-based technologies differs from other AM Technologies. Especially the post-printing processes (debinding and sintering) are crucial to achieve the intended mechanical properties.

Technology principle

How does Binder Jetting work?

Binder Jetting is a powder based Additive Manufacturing technology in which a liquid polymer binder is selectively deposited onto the powder bed binding the metal particles and forming a green body.

The metal powder is applied to a build platform in a typical layer thickness of 40 µm to 100 µm. Subsequently a modified 2D print head apply a binder selectively onto the powder bed. Depending on machine technology a hardening or curing process of the binder is performed in parallel for each layer and/or at the end of the whole build. During the in-situ curing process a heat source is used to solidify the binder and form a solid polymer – metal powder composite.

Working Principle of Binder Jetting

Afterwards the build platform moves downward by the amount of one layer thickness and a new layer of powder is applied. Again, the liquid binder is deposited and hardened in the required regions of the next layer to form the green body. This process is repeated until the complete part is printed. After the complete printing process is finished the parts have to be removed from the “powder cake” meaning the surrounding loose but densified powder. To improve the removal of the excess powder from the green body often brushes or a blasting gun with air pressure are used.

To create a dense metal part the 3D printed green body has to be post-processed in a debinding and sintering process. Similar to the metal injection molding process BJT parts are placed in a high temperature furnace, where the binder is burnt out and the remaining metal particles are sintered together. The sintering results in densification of the 3D printed green body to a metal part with high densities of 97 % to 99,5%, dependent of the material.

Printing Technologies

Metal Binder Jetting

Binder Jetting is a powder based Additive Manufacturing technology in which a liquid polymer binder is selectively deposited onto the powder bed binding the metal particles and forming a green body.

The metal powder is applied to a build platform in a typical layer thickness of 40 µm to 100 µm. Subsequently a modified 2D print head apply a binder selectively onto the powder bed. Depending on machine technology a hardening or curing process of the binder is performed in parallel for each layer and/or at the end of the whole build. During the in-situ curing process a heat source is used to solidify the binder and form a solid polymer – metal powder composite.

Working Principle of Binder Jetting

Material Extrusion

Binder Jetting is a powder based Additive Manufacturing technology in which a liquid polymer binder is selectively deposited onto the powder bed binding the metal particles and forming a green body.

The metal powder is applied to a build platform in a typical layer thickness of 40 µm to 100 µm. Subsequently a modified 2D print head apply a binder selectively onto the powder bed. Depending on machine technology a hardening or curing process of the binder is performed in parallel for each layer and/or at the end of the whole build. During the in-situ curing process a heat source is used to solidify the binder and form a solid polymer – metal powder composite.

Working Principle of Binder Jetting

Mold Slurry Deposition

Binder Jetting is a powder based Additive Manufacturing technology in which a liquid polymer binder is selectively deposited onto the powder bed binding the metal particles and forming a green body.

The metal powder is applied to a build platform in a typical layer thickness of 40 µm to 100 µm. Subsequently a modified 2D print head apply a binder selectively onto the powder bed. Depending on machine technology a hardening or curing process of the binder is performed in parallel for each layer and/or at the end of the whole build. During the in-situ curing process a heat source is used to solidify the binder and form a solid polymer – metal powder composite.

Working Principle of Binder Jetting

Metal Selective Laser Sintering

Binder Jetting is a powder based Additive Manufacturing technology in which a liquid polymer binder is selectively deposited onto the powder bed binding the metal particles and forming a green body.

The metal powder is applied to a build platform in a typical layer thickness of 40 µm to 100 µm. Subsequently a modified 2D print head apply a binder selectively onto the powder bed. Depending on machine technology a hardening or curing process of the binder is performed in parallel for each layer and/or at the end of the whole build. During the in-situ curing process a heat source is used to solidify the binder and form a solid polymer – metal powder composite.

Working Principle of Binder Jetting