In the defense and aerospace industries, large metal components are common; metals can be incredibly sturdy and resilient, even if they are heavy and expensive. When you’re flying in a commercial jet, clearly structural integrity is more important to you than low costs, but that doesn’t mean Boeing doesn’t do whatever they can to reduce their manufacturing costs while still ensuring your safe arrival to Vegas. One of the greatest cost savers to these sectors over the past three decades has been metal 3D printing.
There are a few ways to print in metal; EOS calls their method Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), and Sciaky calls their’s Electron Beam Direct Manufacturing (DM). Essentially they do similar things — print complex objects layer by layer in various metal alloys, often titanium — only the Sciaky machines do it bigger, and with more exotic alloys like tantalum and inconel. You may have noticed that build volumes have been steadily increasing recently, with the Objet1000, Daimler’s X line 1000R, and even the personal CubeX that can print basketball-size objects, but Sciaky puts them all to shame with a build volume of 19x4x4. And that’s not inches, it’s feet. Large parts are crucial because they minimize weight while maintaining strength; bolting parts together takes time, adds weight, and weakens their combined structure, so the less parts the better.
Sciaky’s DM system can print up to 20 pounds per hour (!) while still achieving near-net shape, which is just a technical way of saying the object comes out of the printer requiring minimal finishing grinding and polishing. Aside from raising the quality of the things these companies build, this technology saves manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, the US Air Force, and DARPA millions of dollars, and since much of that is taxpayer dollars, it saves us money too, assuming our politicians don’t spend the savings on golf trips.