Need something better than plastic for your prints? Why not try a metal 3D printing service? Follow along for a list of the best!
Lately, metal 3D printing has gained a great deal of traction in the world of industry. This is primarily thanks to several advancements in the relevant technologies but also because it seems like a game-changer, even for already disruptive 3D printing applications. After all, the global value of industries that rely on metal processing easily exceeds trillions of dollars, and this is an excellent motive for innovative companies to capture even a small segment.
As can be expected, more and more services are appearing that offer metal 3D printing services. They use various technologies, but in general, the starting material is a metal powder. Depending on the process used, this powder is either fused, sintered, or bound together to produce the “raw” version of the object, which must then be post-processed and finished, usually in a special furnace or kiln.
In this article, we will present our pick for the 10 best companies that offer metal 3D printing services. Although the term “best” is subject to interpretation, we used the following evaluations to make our pick:
In general, all services offer an online quoting service or return the quote after human evaluation of the project by a group of experts. Regardless of the method, the workflow is almost the same:
Depending on the technology used, post-processing costs may be applicable (normally they will be included in the quote).
Now, let’s have a look at our top performers!
Every customer has different 3D printing needs. Perhaps you need a new prototype part to test a particular use case. Or maybe you’re a manufacturer wanting to evaluate the properties of a different material.
Regardless of the task, you’ll want the path that’s as effective and affordable as possible. To help you find that path, try Craftcloud, the 3D printing and price comparison service from All3DP.
With partners all around the world, Craftcloud presents you with the best services in terms of price and lead time, and there are no additional fees added. Quotes are generated in real-time based on your models and location.
Using the platform is as simple as any other 3D printing service, but with many more options available. You can choose from common metals like aluminum and steel or precious metals like sterling silver and gold. And depending on the material you select, you can also request a particular finish.
Other helpful features of Crafcloud are its professional network and support staff. If your part isn’t suitable for printing, or you simply don’t have a design, experts and professional partners will help you get your design off the ground. And if you’re having trouble with the order or delivery processes, the Craftcloud team ready to assist.
Based in Belgium, i.Materialise offers a wide variety of 3D printing services, using all the major printing technologies. These services are available through the company’s online platform, which has a strong presence in several countries across multiple continents.
With i.Materialise, the selection of materials is huge! For metals, they offer prints in aluminum, titanium, simple and high detail steels, and the following precious metals: brass, bronze, copper, gold, and silver. Meanwhile, their services are structured by industry, having set up a department for each major client group, including medicine, optics, and jewelry.
What’s particularly great about i.Materialise is the amount of information that the potential buyer has access to in advance. They share a lot regarding the technology used for each type of metal, the maximum sizes of objects that can be printed, their estimated delivery times, useful tips on how to design the 3D model, and much more.
Overall, this service is professional and well-organized.
Shapeways is another US-based company that offers 3D printing services worldwide. Originating in the Netherlands as a spin-off company from Philips, they set up a production site in the US before moving their HQ there. They don’t focus on any particular industry, instead offering their entire group of services to whoever needs them.
They offer their services on-demand through their online ordering process. This includes “3D design as a service”, through which clients without 3D design experience can start making their own designs through their partner, Zverse.
Shapeways offers all major technologies, while their metal printing system uses 3D printers from the aforementioned ExOne.
The technical information regarding their materials is good along with the design guidelines for the models to be printed. Their online ordering system is also friendly and well designed; one can easily upload a model, which is analyzed in real-time before presenting options for materials and finishing. The price is calculated based on these selections and the number of pieces ordered.
Sculpteo (now a part of the BASF group) originated in France and has an additional manufacturing plant in San Francisco, USA. They also have various offices in other European countries.
Their services include an online 3D printing service, laser engraving, and an in-house software platform called Fabpilot, which they offer on a subscription-based model. Regarding their online 3D printing service, it operates very similarly to Shapeways and other online quoting systems.
Their material selection is quite large, and it includes all major technologies. Each material is accompanied by plenty of information regarding the technical limitations, the appropriate uses, and design guidelines to help you optimize your parts.
Their online order form is quite informative and has many changeable parameters. Depending on the technology and material combination, Sculpteo will present the maximum size of object that can be printed.
Another interesting tool they use is a live preview, which shows the “weak” spots of a model and allows you to analyze hollow parts. Compared to the other services in this list, Sculpteo’s interface is one of the best.
3D Hubs is a Dutch 3D printing platform, offering a large variety of services across all the major markets. Their model is slightly different to the others, as they are essentially a platform connecting a large network of manufacturing partners. With a strong presence in both the US and Europe, their quality and selection criteria ensure only professional companies are accepted into the network.
Their services include 3D printing in all major technologies, CNC machining, injection molding, and sheet metal fabrication. For metal printing, they offer a limited service, as they currently only support direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) with aluminum and stainless steel metal powders.
Their quote platform is rather straightforward. One uploads an object to be printed and a printability analysis is done on the spot. If everything goes well, the user can select the desired material and the price is displayed in a few seconds, with an estimated delivery time.
ExOne is a 3D printer manufacturer that also offers 3D metal printing services. Their global coverage seems to be achieved through local partnerships, through which they have a strong presence in Europe, the US, and Eastern Asia. They use binder jetting technology and mainly focus on metal, sand, and ceramics as their primary materials.
While their materials selection is somewhat limited, they do provide enough technical data to evaluate each material.
3D Systems is one of the “big names” in the industry, partly due to its vast coverage and services, but also due to its history with the invention of SLA technology (and with it, 3D printing). Their headquarters are in Carolina, USA, but they do cover all major global markets.
They offer a large spectrum of services, including hardware and software support. The industries they serve are several, but they seem to pay slightly more attention to industries that require a lot of prototyping or molding.
Metal 3D printing is incorporated into a number of their services. For example, one can find metal printing in the rapid prototyping service as well as the low-volume production service.
Their ordering system is a bit of a mixture. It requires a login (thus prior registration) before being able to request a quote, instant or otherwise. They also offer the possibility to help you design your desired object.
GE Additive belongs to the General Electric group and specializes in their own metal 3D printing technologies, most of which have been obtained through mergers and acquisitions, such as with Arcam and Concept Laser.
Apart from their sales operations, they also offer 3D printing services. Moreover, they provide their own materials as well as their consultancy and training services. They focus on medical, automotive, military, dental, and aerospace industries.
Although their services aren’t available online, they do offer US customers the full range of printing services via their Printing Center (located in Pitsburg). European customers, meanwhile, have access to a lighter version via their Customer Experience Center (located in Munich). At present, it’s not clear whether they plan to expand these types of facilities to the rest of the world.
Starrapid is based in Zhongshan, China. They offer prototyping services, CNC machining, injection molding, pressure die casting, and metal printing for low-volume production. The industries they focus on are agriculture, medicine, electronics, and consumer products. They have a presence in the US, Europe, and Asia, but they don’t do any production outside of China.
Through their metal 3D printing service, one has access to aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, and maraging steel, all of which are printing using a variation of DMLS on Renishaw printers. Their site provides supplementary information for metal 3D printing, such as design tips, material information, and printing process details. What’s interesting about their service is that they combine it with CNC milling in order to handle the post-processing of the requested parts.
Although they do provide what they call an instant quoting service, in reality, it’s only a standard human-based quoting system. After you’ve filled in all the necessary information, they’ll come back to you with a specific proposal.
Digital Metal is based in Sweden and is part of the Höganäs Group, which manufactures metal powders. They use their own binder jetting technology, which they distribute in their own printing machines. However, they do offer on-demand services, as well.
The industries they serve are primarily dental, aerospace, and luxury goods. The strength of their technology lies in the production of small and complex parts (like gears for an engine or micro-gears for watch mechanisms). They serve customers all around the globe through a single production site, which is located in Sweden.
Something unique about Digital Metal is that it uses somewhat different materials than other similar services, such as composite mixes of steel and also titanium.
They do not provide an online ordering system, but they follow the more traditional route of allowing customers to contact a salesperson. The client can send a file and then the company’s engineers will provide feasibility and cost information.
(Lead image source: EIT Raw Materials)
License: The text of "2020 Best Metal 3D Printing Services" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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