Prototype parts produced by a 3D binder jet metal-printing process employed by Smith Metal Products. (Smith Metal Products photo)

CENTER CITY, Minn.—Smith Metal Products recently added a 3D binder jet metal-printing capability that enables customers to see, touch, evaluate, and verify their parts by using a MIM-like process without the cost of building a test mold, the company said in a release.

Smith Metal’s 3D binder jetting is a form of metal powder 3D printing in which a part is fully formed before thermal energy is used to sinter or fuse the metal particles. This ensures that the final part’s micro-structure is correct for obtaining high quality functional parts that perform as required, according to the release.

Binder Jetting uses a liquid binding agent that is sprayed onto a thin layer of powdered metal particles. The process is repeated, one layer at a time. The resulting prototype parts are then cured and sintered at high temperatures, creating the final part. One hundred percent of the binder is removed during the sintering process, as it is with Smith Metal’s metal injection- molded (MIM) parts, the company said.

All part materials available in Smith Metal’s standard MIM offering are also available for the new prototype capability, according to the release. Among them are low-alloyed steels, stainless steel, most ferrous metals, and titanium. Part sizes range up to 3 inches long by 0.25 inch thick; weights, up to 100 grams.

Smith Metal Products’ 3D binder jet metal-printing capability is designed to support a customer’s research and development efforts with a bridge to MIM parts. It can be especially useful for reducing time-to-market developmental programs, according to the manufacturer.

Smith Metal Products said in the release that printing prototype parts is faster and more versatile than producing expensive test molds for metal injection molding, or CNC machining costly prototype parts. It substantially reduces lead time for the prototypes and allows customers to make adjustments quickly before the final mold for MIM is established. The 3D printed prototype parts are said to give customers more confidence in using their designs for production parts.

The company said it provides free basic design for manufacturability (DFM) recommendations to help customers optimize their part designs for MIM production. Metal injection molding can produce complex metal parts quickly, while eliminating extensive machining, and is suitable for parts with annual volumes of 10,000 pieces up to several million, the company said.

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