One of the most important metal 3D printer costs is that of the raw materials. Metals for 3D printing are often far more expensive than other forms of the same metal. This is due to special processing and purity requirements. In addition to the raw material itself, some metal 3D printers require inert gas which can add a surprising amount to the overall annual cost. There are 3 main groups of metal 3D printed raw materials as listed below.
One of the biggest disadvantages of powder-based metal 3D printing (typically laser-based printers) is the cost of the raw material. In most cases, the process to turn metal into powder is expensive and energy-intensive. In addition to this, the powder needs to be highly pure which only adds to the overall cost. Metal powder can cost anywhere from $79/kg for 17-4PH steel to $738/kg for advanced titanium alloys like Nitinol.
- Metal Wire
3D printing technologies like DED (Directed Energy Deposition) have much lower material costs because their raw material comes in wire form. Metal wire is much cheaper to produce than powder. Essentially, the costs are comparable to spooled welding wire. However, it must be noted that DED printers do not produce good finishes and often need additional machining after printing is complete.
- Polymer Bound Metal
3D printers like the Desktop Metal Studio 2 and Markforged’s Metal X make use of a polymer-metal powder matrix that is supplied in spools. This process uses the same powder as MIM (Metal Injection Molding) processes and the quality and particle size tolerance is more lenient than is the case for laser-based systems. That all gives this technology the cheapest raw material cost. Desktop Metal claims the material cost per kg is 80% cheaper than normal laser-based powder printers.