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Applications of PureForm™ metal additive manufacturing

What are characteristics of good parts for the PureForm metal AM process?

Successful use cases of parts created with our PureForm metal 3D printing technology come in different sizes and geometries, but share a few common traits:

  • Size: softball-size or smaller
  • Complexity: the more intricate and complex the features in a part, the more that the PureForm process becomes attractive compared to traditional manufacturing processes like multi-axis CNC machining, casting, or metal injection molding
  • Design agility/flexibility: As a digital manufacturing technology, PureForm metal 3D printing does not require hard tooling, and can produce new geometries of parts simply by printing different digital 3D model files. This is excellent for high design mix, shorter production runs, as well as larger volume production while preserving the ability to quickly adjust production design geometry (in response to customer feedback, market demand, new engineering data, etc.).
  • High quality, functional iteration at speed: PureForm metal AM parts are functionally equivalent to production-grade metal injection molded (MIM) parts, meaning you can use our metal 3D printing service to quickly iterate through designs during R&D and product development, while receiving highly dimensionally accurate, ready-to-use full strength parts with a high quality surface finish.
  • ‘Un-machinable’ features: PureForm can easily create geometries created as part of advanced (often generatively-designed in software) applications that are impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing processes like CNC machining, casting, or MIM. This unlocks the ability to develop high-performance heatsinks and thermal management components, tiny light-weighted structures, and advanced parts whose geometries are optimized by machine learning and AI computer models — not by the limitations of traditional manufacturing processes.

stainless steel 3d printed

A tiny bevel gear (light-weighted further with a hollow gyroid internal structure) printed in 17-4PH stainless steel with Holo’s PureForm metal AM platform. The gear was printed with a unique set of parameters that yielded a non-standard module (pitch diameter/number of teeth) that would be difficult to otherwise source, especially in small volumes during early product development and testing.

What industries are successful with metal 3D printing from Holo?

Almost every company that makes small, intricate metal parts at any point in the journey from R&D through production will eventually run into a project that could take advantage of our PureForm metal 3D printing technology. That being said, our customers have found some consistent wins in the following areas of engineering and manufacturing:

  • Surgical tool R&D and product development
  • Wearable consumer electronics
  • AR/VR components & equipment 
  • High-performance thermal management components
  • Aerospace & defense (especially for light-weighted parts and electric aviation)
  • Automotive (focus on EV developments)
  • Precision robotics
  • MIM prototyping and bridge production

high. performance heat sink

A high-performance, procedurally-generated heat sink for a power resistor intended for high-power electric aircraft propulsion systems (Photo: NASA Glenn Research Center)

In general, a consistent theme in successful use cases across all these industries is that existing traditional manufacturing technologies could not produce parts with the intricate geometries and technical details required, or required too large of a minimum order quantity to justify process tooling and setup costs, or both. For all these customers, our PureForm metal AM platform represents a more cost-effective, technically capable, and flexible manufacturing solution than their traditional technology alternative.

How many parts can I make with PureForm metal 3D printing?

Both plastic and metal 3D printing have traditionally represented more of a prototyping technology than a serious production solution, except in rare niche cases, but that’s been changing, and Holo is leading the charge on the production metal additive manufacturing front.

The short answer is that while every project has different requirements and geometries, PureForm metal 3D printing has the demonstrated capability to be a production digital manufacturing solution for parts in the tens to hundred thousands of units or more.

clevis pins 17-4ph

A build of clevis pins printed in 17-4PH stainless steel on one of Holo’s PureForm metal 3D printers. The printing side of the PureForm metal AM platform is based on high volume digital light processing (DLP) 3D printing technology, which cures an entire layer at a time regardless of how many parts are in a build. It takes the same amount of time to print one copy of a part as it does one hundred copies (assuming they all fit within a single build), and the system is most productive and efficient when the build area is fully packed with parts.

Our PureForm metal 3D printing solution is built upon a combination of two proven production technologies — DLP 3D printing and backend sintering processes from the metal injection molding (MIM) industry. We pair this with proprietary Holo materials and software to form a fast, parallelizable manufacturing solution that produces high accuracy, high quality True-to-CAD™ metal parts, that can cost-effectively meet production demand into high volumes.

What metals can be 3D printed with the PureForm process?

The PureForm metal AM process is based in part on metal injection molding (MIM) backend sintering technology, and is technically capable of producing parts in any metal that can be  processed via MIM, as well as many ceramics that can be processed by ceramic injection molding (CIM).

Of course, it takes time and engineering effort to optimize a metal for printing with Holo’s proprietary DLP photopolymer binder system, as well as to dial in sintering profiles for the high accuracy and surface finish we pride ourselves on, so our current PureForm materials portfolio is a little more focused than the full extent of MIM offerings.

3d printed metal parts

An assortment of components printed in a variety of functional engineering alloys using Holo’s PureForm metal AM technology

Currently, we offer the following Production materials:

  • 17-4PH stainless steel
  • 316 Stainless steel
  • Pure copper

We also offer the following Development materials, which have been demonstrated and tailored for printing, but may not yet have the same level of optimization and product maturity as our Production portfolio:

  • Aluminum 6061
  • Titanium 6Al-4V
  • Inconel 625
  • Hastelloy C22

Looking for a MIM or CIM material that’s not listed here? We’re always looking for market feedback and we entertain compelling material development projects — contact our team with your request and we’ll set up a time to chat!

When should I consider PureForm metal 3D printing instead of a traditional metal manufacturing process?

Holo customers typically choose to use our PureForm digital manufacturing platform when a number of overlapping factors make an alternative traditional manufacturing process less attractive. It’s less common for us to run into a customer project where there’s a single requirement that can only be met by our metal 3D printing technology, but it does sometimes occur in very complex geometries and particularly when they’re needed quickly.

For most other cases, choosing to use our PureForm metal AM platform results from a combination of factors that frequently complicate the manufacture of complex metal parts. Maybe you don’t have time to wait for tooling to be cut and a slot in a MIM supplier’s production schedule to open up. Or you can’t find a Swiss-type CNC shop that’s willing to quote a complex component design because their minimum order quantities are too high. You might need to get to market faster than your vendors can support, but want to retain the flexibility to adjust and update a product design if feedback from your customers necessitates changes.

In all of these cases (and more) leveraging our metal 3D printing service enables manufacturers to gain access to highly flexible digital manufacturing, the capabilities to produce extremely complex, accurate metal parts, and the option to scale into large production volumes easily with the same technology that they used for small batch R&D and product development.

Can PureForm metal 3D printing be used for production applications?

Absolutely — and some Holo customers are already doing so (we’ll let you know when one of them lets us share the awesome work they’re doing)! Manufacturing and product companies are using parts built with our metal 3D printing service both for dedicated production applications, and for bridge production while waiting for tooling to be created for mass manufacturing technologies like MIM.

grippers 17-4ph

A batch of prototype grippers for laparoscopic surgical tool development, printed in 17-4PH stainless steel

Typically, Holo’s production customers turn to us for use cases when they:

  • can’t use a traditional manufacturing technology or other AM technology for technical reasons (geometry isn’t manufacturable, minimum order quantity too high, lead times for tooling too long)

  • want to avoid a frustrating vendor sourcing experience when trying to get complex parts quoted and manufactured

  • want high design flexibility to respond to changing market demands, even well into a production run

  • find it attractive to use the same technology for both R&D, product development, and production, without needing to re-qualify parts due to changing processes between stages

  • are designing cutting-edge products that require complex, intricate geometries whose high-performance depends on (often computer-, machine learning-, or AI-generated) designs that are only manufacturable using additive manufacturing

Want to learn more? Talk to an expert on our team about your specific project requirements and see how we can help accelerate your product development and manufacturing.