What are the applications of powder bed fusion?

In the past decade additive manufacturing has gone from being a novelty technology with limited real-world applications to being a real contributor to modern manufacturing. Powder bed fusion is one of the oldest metal additive manufacturing technologies and as such has matured enough to add a wide range of industry-specific applications. This article will explore the applications of powder bed fusion across some key manufacturing industries.

Automotive applications of powder bed fusion

The applications of powder bed fusion in the automotive industry are many, from prototyping to lightweighting of components. Listed below are some examples of where the technology is used:

  • Tyre molds – Tyre tread molds often contain very thin but complex features. They improve the tyres’ functionality and give them a more stable tread profile throughout their lifespan. Powder bed fusion outfits Michelin tyre molds with extremely thin structures and other advanced geometry that would be impossible or extremely expensive to manufacture with standard techniques.
  • Seat belt bracketGeneral motors have turned to powder bed fusion to reduce the weight and assembly complexity of their seat belt brackets. Using generative design, a single component was created that had the required structural strength and took the place of the eight sub-components of previous designs.
  • Brake caliper – Bugatti 3D printed a titanium brake caliper that is normally made out of aluminium. The resulting caliper was stronger than the original and weighed 40% less.

Medical applications of powder bed fusion

The medical industry is a major adopter of 3D printing technology – especially powder bed fusion. This is in part due to the wide range of biocompatible materials that are well-suited to these printers as well as the fact that the process can produce a variety of complex geometries. Listed below are some applications of powder bed fusion:

  • Jaw reconstruction – An entire jaw bone was printed out of titanium and implanted into a patient. A custom jaw bone was designed based on x-rays of the patient’s skull. This artificial jaw bone had cavities built into it to allow for muscle attachment and nerve growth.
  • Knee replacement – The cartilage in knee joints wears down with time and in some cases the condition can no longer be managed with medication. In this case a metal knee joint may be implanted to reinforce the area. A custom knee joint is created from biocompatible material for each patient by making use of CT-scan data.
  • Hip joint – 3D-printed hip joints were first implanted over a decade ago and have now become common. Tens of thousands of hip joints have been implanted into patients that make use of biocompatible titanium and complex porous structures to promote bone stitching into the joint. This technology has benefited a wide range of patients and offers a drastic improvement over older implants.

Aerospace applications of powder bed fusion

The aerospace industry, one of the early adopters of powder bed fusion for metal parts, operates at the very edge of material science and engineering technology in order to push the limits of what’s possible. Listed below are some applications of powder bed fusion:

  • Rocket engine combustion chamber – Launcher, an American rocket startup, used powder bed fusion to consolidate the various parts of a rocket engine combustion chamber into one component, drastically reducing part complexity. Furthermore, it allows for the inclusion of internal cooling channels within the structure of the rocket to further improve the engine’s performance. This component experiences extreme temperatures and pressures and serves as a testament to the performance of 3D-printed parts.
  • GE9C Engine – The engines on the Boeing 777x are the largest and most powerful commercial jet engines to date and incorporate over 300 3D-printed parts. They are 10% more fuel efficient when compared to their predecessors. This drastic increase proves that the applications of powder bed fusion are set to grow considerably within the aerospace industry.
  • Injector head – The Ariane 6 rocket booster made use of powder bed fusion for the manufacture of a complex rocket engine part known as an injector head. This allowed for a simplification in the assembly from 248 parts to only one. It significantly reduced the production time from three months to a day and a half as well as halving the cost of the part.

In conclusion

There are many applications of powder bed fusion across all industries and the ones listed above are merely a small sample of what is possible. This technology allows for the design of complex, lightweight components that push engineering to its theoretical limit. To learn how this technology can benefit your specific manufacturing challenges, contact a Kingsbury representative today.

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