Working with BASF Forward AM, one of the largest chemical companies in the world, Zortrax has introduced a process that enables manufacturing of metal parts on the Zortrax Endureal industrial 3D printer out of two most commonly used types of steel: the stainless 316L surgical-grade and precipitation hardened 17-4 PH grade. Bringing metal 3D printing capability to polymer extrusion-based 3D printers marks the opening of the next chapter in cooperation between Zortrax and BASF. Everything there is to know about how it works and how to implement it is covered in detail below.
Zortrax Full Metal Packages are kits with everything you need to start 3D printing metal parts on the Zortrax Endureal.
The way all this works is simple.
The way to start printing metal parts on the Endureal 3D printers is simple.
To seamlessly go through this process every time, each Zortrax Full Metal Package contains:
3D printed metal part after welding in the front and BASF Ultrafuse metallic filament spool in the background.
To secure the prints on their way to the Elnik Systems GmbH which is a company responsible for turning them into metal parts, we even threw a bubble wrap in there. Just to keep you on the safe side of things.
Each of the two introduced Full Metal Packages comes with a BASF metallic powder filament that enables making parts out of two different types of steel. The first type is a stainless, surgical-grade 316L steel which is particularly resistant to corrosion due to relatively high percentage of chromium present in the alloy. Chromium, when it comes in contact with oxygen, form a very thin protective layer on the surface of your parts that prevents them from corroding.
316L steel works well in printing small, precise and non-magnetic parts for precision mechanisms.
This makes it perform good in challenging environments where parts are constantly exposed to liquids, chemicals, or salt. The 316L steel is also aesthetically pleasing, especially after polishing, which makes it a popular choice for decorative applications. This steel, however, is relatively soft and has quite high elongation at break reaching 53%. It will bend rather than break under critical load.
The 17-4 PH steel, on the other hand, is an alloy that has very high hardness due to increased addition of carbon and undergoing a process called precipitation hardening. It is therefore way harder than the 316L type and has a lot lower elongation at break measured at just 4%. This means the material can withstand much higher loads with tensile strength of 1004 MPa which is nearly twice as much as 316L rated at 561 MPa.
17-4 PH steel is great for stiff structural parts like brackets.
Low elongation, however, means that it would break rather than bend under critical load. The 17-4 PH, although still falling into the stainless steel category, is also significantly more prone to corrosion than 316L type and thus requires more maintenance. Finally, its matt surface has never been considered particularly pretty, so it’s a better choice for scenarios where form is secondary to function.
Key differences between the BASF Ultrafuse 316L and BASF Ultrafuse 17-4 PH are wrapped up in the following table.
Type of steel
|316L||Stainless||Non-magnetic||Medium harndness / high elongation|
|17-4 PH||Corrosive||Magnetic||High hardness / low elongation|
Why the Endureal is the Right Choice for Metals
Zortrax Endureal 3D printer is the first machine in our range to support printing with metallic filaments and there are good reasons for that.
It has a well-designed, dual-extrusion system that has been proven time and time again in printing high-performance components for extremely demanding applications, including space flight. Dimensional accuracy of printed parts is ensured by the heated printing chamber with fully controllable temperature. The standard nozzles used in the Endureal are made of a special kind of industrial bronze that is extremely resistant to abrasion. Considering that especially BASF Ultrafuse Support Layer is a very abrasive material, using nozzles like these significantly prolongs the lifespan of the system and lets it run longer without maintenance.
When it comes to 3D printing with metallic filaments, Zortrax Endureal is one of the very best 3D printers on the market.
Finally, because we make both the 3D printer and the slicing software, we could include multiple useful features, such as autoscaling and metal-specific infill type, to name just a few, in our Z-SUITE software that comes free with every Zortrax 3D printer.
All this adds up to one thing – parts 3D printed on the Endureal with metallic filaments have solid internal structure found in traditionally made metal alloys which is the ultimate goal in any metal 3D printing process.
Once the parts made with Zortrax Full Metal Packages are 3D printed, they need to undergo a post-processing stage developed by BASF Forward AM and performed by Elnik Systems GmbH, a company making the most advanced furnaces in the world. Without going too deep into the details of the process itself, it comprises two key stages.
Models 3D printed on the Endureal 3D printer with Zortrax Full Metal Packages retain excellent dimensional accuracy and surface quality even after elaborate post-processing needed to turn then into steel parts.
The first stage is called debinding. Your parts are placed in the furnace and the right temperature is applied to remove the polymer filler from the models. Once this first stage is complete, the furnace enters the second stage called sintering, where parts turn into metal alloys. By applying an ultra-high temperature, the metallic powder left after the polymer filler has been removed is fused into a solid structure of a metal alloy. Finally, the parts are cooled down and taken out of the furnace to be packed and sent back to you.
Most of the design guidelines and limitations explained in our Metal 3D Printing Manual are dictated by the technicalities of this elaborate post-processing. For example, the polymer fillers present in BASF Ultrafuse metallic filaments account for roughly 20% of their volume. That is why the parts shrink 20% after the debinding stage. Size limit for the metal 3D printed parts is simply there to make them fit into Elnik furnaces.
After the post-processing, the parts made with Zortrax Full Metal Packages can undergo all kinds of post-processing typically employed to give finishing touches to metals.
3D printed steel can be sanded just like standard steel.
Holes included in the designs can be threaded to make place for screws or bolts. Parts can be welded together with no problem or sterilized if needed. 3D printed steel can also be polished to achieve mirrored surfaces wherever necessary or sanded to get the dimensions right down to a fraction of a millimeter. Basically, 3D printed steel behaves like any other steel.
Due to internal structure indistinguishable from traditionally made steel, the 3D printed metal parts can be easily welded.
Article from our partner Zortrax