In this article, we will be looking at the best metal 3D printing services available, along with some helpful pointers to choose the right service for your specific needs.
1. Protolabs (Overall Best)
Protolabs has made quite a name for itself with its reliability and speed. From an instant quote, automated design analysis to delivery of the finished part the next day, Protolabs provides a speedy and transparent 3D printing service through and through.
Protolabs offers steels, aluminum, Inconel, titanium, copper, cobalt chrome, and brass powders for metal 3D printing via its DMLS 3D print process. Further, Protolabs also holds ISO 9001:2015, AS9100D, ITAR registration certificates. Whether it’s an enthusiast part or a functional prototype or even a small volume production part, Protolabs will have you covered.
If you are sure that you want a 3D print done in metal, chances are Protolabs can get it done faster and more reliably than most other 3D printing services.
2. Sandvik/BeamIT (Best professional)
Sandvik has a history in metallurgy that spans across three centuries. Their latest focus is to apply all this accumulated wealth of metallurgical knowledge to additive manufacturing. That’s not to say that they are new to the 3D printing game by any means. Sandvik AM itself began in 2013 and has since grown to acquire BeamIT in 2019.
Sandvik’s business model is focused primarily on professionals who want a one-to-one consultation through to the planning, design and finally the 3D printing of the part. Sandvik offers no automated service. Instead, Sandvik always has human experts on the other end to provide the best possible guidance, consultation, and design to suit your needs.
Sandvik also offers the largest selection of high-performance metals and alloys available like steel and steel alloys, titanium, copper, aluminum, nickel, cemented carbide as well as numerous custom alloys, with new ones added routinely to meet customer-specific demands.
If you want a thoroughly professional consultant in addition to a high-quality industrial metal 3D printing service, then Sandvik AM would certainly meet your criteria.
3. Materialise (Best for enthusiasts)
Materialise (better known for its online portal i.Materialise) provides by far the best selection of metals to choose from for sculptures, gadgets, one-off designs and other similar enthusiast pursuits of metal 3D printing.
Materialise offers various metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, Inconel IN718, and precious metals such as Sterling silver, 14K and 18K gold, Brass, bronze, pure copper.
What sets Materialise apart from the pack is its openness about its process, metals, finishes as well as quotations and delivery times. i.Materialise still feels fresh like a startup with its focus on providing the easiest possible way from design to delivery for its customers.
Materialise is also of particular interest to potential 3D print designers for its integrated marketplace. If you are fond of a particular 3D print, then you can make it available for purchase on the i.Materialise marketplace with a transparent profit-sharing system. i.Materialise also offers white label integration so if you are a small batch manufacturer or would like to use the service as a business partner then i.Materialise has you covered.
4. Xometry (Best for large batches)
Xometry is one of the fastest growing 3D printing and contract manufacturing service providers around.
Xometry acts as a middleman between the customer and its various supply chain partners to ensure consistent quality and efficiency across the large swathe of physically diverse manufacturing partners. With the self-boasted largest network of over 2000 manufacturing partners across Europe, as well as a suitably large number of partners in the US. Xometry is likely to always be able to pair you with a supplier or suppliers that meet your needs.
Xometry offers metal 3D printing in aluminum, steels, Inconels and Titanium in DMLS, and X1 Metal 420i in Metal Binder Jetting.
Xometry is ISO certified and offers express delivery of parts in as little as 5 working days.
5. Stratasys Direct (Best for large Batch Industrial Applications)
Stratasys is one of the most recognizable names in the 3D printing industry. Via Stratasys Direct, Stratasys offers its 3D printing expertise for rapid prototyping, end-use parts and also for 3D printed volume production which it gets done by one of the largest fleets of industrial 3D printers operated by a single company.
Stratasys, ironically however, uses fellow 3D printing industry heavy-weight EOS’s DMLS 3D printers to get the job done for its customers’ metal 3D prints in aluminum, cobalt, nickel alloy, stainless steel and titanium metals.
What Stratasys brings to the table is decades of additive manufacturing experience and expertise from across many diverse industries that it has and continues to serve.
Admittedly, Stratasys Direct is not for enthusiasts or amateurs. With its battalion of experts and engineers, Stratasys Direct is aimed squarely at the pros that need function above all else.
6. MX3D (Best WAAM)
There has been numerous WAAM 3D printing services over the past few years. MX3D arguably still leads the pack as it is the only one with a proven history of producing headliner 3D metal prints such as the 3D printed metal bridge in Amsterdam.
MX3D offers 3D printing on demand whereby it 3D prints medium to large-scale prints on its Metal XL or M1 WAAM 3D Metal Printers. Materials on-offer include stainless steel, copper, aluminum as well as most any metal or alloy that could be used in traditional arc welding.
Things to consider before sourcing metal 3D prints from a 3D printing service
As with any production service, a specific set of needs will always dictate where you decide to source metal 3D prints from. Be sure to consider at least the following few pointers to get to the service that is best for you:
· Lead time
Most 3D printing services will routinely offer different delivery options based on different lead times for parts shipping.
Contrary to popular belief, however, shorter does not necessarily mean better: If you don’t care to wait an additional week or two for parts then there is no reason to pay exorbitantly high fees for 5 day or next-day delivery.
The inverse is also true, when you cannot wait for a part, then on-time delivery should be a high-priority
Steer clear of services that don’t give the option of selecting a delivery option of your own preference. Especially those that do not offer Express shipping (if that is a requirement) with reputable 3rd party couriers.
Metal 3D printing is a complex process on a good day. It is in the interest of 3D printing services to not worry the customer too much about the details but at the same time a 3D printing service that is transparent about the material qualities, 3D printers used, tolerances, and specific metal or alloy properties that the service has on-offer would ultimately benefit the customer to make an informed decision.
It should always be a preference to work with a metal 3D printing service that is as transparent as possible about the entire chain of the process – from the upload through to the delivery and everything in-between.
· Material Selection
You should know which material you’d like your part to be 3D-printed in. There is no point in choosing a metal 3D printing service on the basis of its reputation if it doesn’t offer the required metal or alloy.
Precious metals in particular are offered only by a handful of reputable metal 3D printing services. Similarly, steel, aluminum as well as titanium come in many different alloys and grades which are suitable for different applications. It may be possible to achieve the desired result with a cheaper metal or even plastic if the 3D printing service has a suitably trained engineer to assist you.
So, if you are not 100% certain of which metal to go for, then go with a metal 3D printing service that can give you the necessary guidance.
· Expert consultation
If your needs are of a commercial or industrial nature, then it pays dividends to work with a professional metal 3D printing service that can hold your hand from the design process and onward. Most professional metal 3D printing services have integrated CNC and sheet metal fabrication services also on-offer so they would also be able to guide you on the cost versus quality benefits of each different technology.
This is not the case, however, for amateurs or enthusiasts. The additional overheads of hiring so many experts can result in a quoted price many orders more than what a simpler friendly neighborhood 3D printing service would charge. So be clear on what your needs are, it may help you to save a pretty penny.
· Quality Assurance and Return Policies
Try to find a metal 3D printing service that has good quality assurance accreditation and certification. This would act as a baseline to the type of experience you could expect from that service.
Equally important are the return policies of the service. These would only be triggered under certain designated circumstances (wrong 3D print, incorrect finish etc.) but a good metal 3D printing service should provide a clear return policy along with a defined mechanism for return and re-sending of the correct 3D prints.
Mistakes happen by the best in the business, but to take responsibility for said mistakes is what differentiates a great service from an average one.