Shopping for aluminum 3D printers isn’t an easy task. Such a printer is a big investment, and you don’t want to mess it up.
In this article, we’ll give you an in-depth look at our top 5 aluminum 3D printers, what makes them good or not-so-good, the technologies involved, and most importantly, which applications they are most useful for.
Table of Contents
- Aluminum 3D Printers At A Glance
- What is Aluminum 3D Printing?
- What Can You 3D Print with Aluminum?
- What Aluminum Alloys Use in 3D Printing?
- Benefits of 3D Printing Aluminum
- Disadvantages of 3D Printing Aluminum
- So Which Is the Best Aluminum 3D Printer?
Aluminum 3D Printers At A Glance
3D Printer Type: DMLS | Materials: EOS Titanium, EOS Copper Cu, EOS CobaltChrome, EOS Nickel Alloy, EOS Stainless Steel, EOS Aluminum & EOS CaseHardeningSteel 20MnCr5 | Build Volume: 250 x 250 x 325 mm
The EOS M 290 is a DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) 3D printer that gets you a 100 micron layer resolution and a 250 x 250 x 325 mm build volume. If you want to print aluminum — or any other metal, for that matter — this printer can do it wonderfully.
The EOS M 290 uses a powerful 400W laser with outstanding beam quality, which yields high quality and accuracy in builds.
From aluminum and steel to titanium, there’s nothing you can’t work with. Its supported materials include MaragingSteel MS1, EOS CobaltChrome MP1, and of course, EOS Aluminum AlSi10Mg. It comes with a closed material system though, which means you can only use the powders EOS offers.
This printer is really good at capturing difficult — or, impossible geometries, all while building lightweight but sturdy objects.
One thing to keep in mind is that it doesn’t offer the biggest build volume on this list, so if you’re looking to build heavier and bigger parts than what this build volume offers, you should probably skip it.
If your main priority is not just to print aluminum but a whole variety of different materials — and you’re fine with the smaller build volume — this printer is the one for you.
3D Printer Type: SLM | Materials: Cobalt-Chromium Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Tool Steel, Super Alloys, Inconel & Titanium | Build Volume: 500 x 280 x 365 mm
This printer really does put the “Solutions” in “SLM Solutions”! The SLM 500 HL offers a build volume of 500 x 280 x 365 mm.
The SLM 500 HL is a speedy printer with a pretty sizable build volume. So if you need speed AND a large printing size, this is the printer for you.
It offers a minimum layer thickness of just 20 microns.
There are two models: First off, there’s the Twin (with an option of 2 400W lasers or 2 700W lasers), and then the Quad (4 400W lasers or 4 700W lasers).
There’s a lot to choose from here, so consider what printer will suit your application best. If you need faster production, opt for the 2 700W laser version of the Twin.
If that won’t be sufficient, one of the Quad models would be well suited to you. With the Quad, build rates are faster by 90% compared to the Twin model. Build rates vary from 105 to 171 cubic centimeters per hour. It’s a powerhouse of a printer.
These printers also save a whole lot of time (and powder!) by using bidirectional recoating, which is the process of spreading powder onto the powder bed.
The SLM 500 HL also comes with a laser power monitoring feature to track any faults or deviations in laser power.
3D Printer Type: Direct Energy Deposition | Materials: 4008 Aluminum (A356) | Build Volume: 300 x 300 x 300 mm
Xerox printers? Sure. But Xerox 3D printers?!
Yep, Xerox does actually make 3D printers. And we finally don’t have to bother with ink cartridges for this one. And if you’re looking for something more cost-effective than SLM and SLS printers, look no further — this liquid metal 3D printer is the one for you.
The Xerox ElemX is a liquid metal 3D printer with a build volume of 300 x 300 x 300 mm. It offers a nearly 99% density of printed parts and a minimum layer thickness of 24 microns.
Now, there’s actually quite a distinct advantage that you might have not known that liquid metal printing offers — it’s safer than conventional metal powder-based 3D printing methods. Liquid metal printing uses a coil of aluminum wire, rather than powder, which is then melted to become your final part. This is much safer as powder, once inhaled, can cause lung problems.
And aluminum coil is some of the cheapest metal 3D printing materials out there, making it a really cost-effective 3D printing process.
ElemX printers can churn out parts as large as 300 x 300 x 127 mm in just about 4 hours. And simple parts get printed faster.
And thanks to its AI-based software, there’s almost no post-processing required!
3D Printer Type: Powder Bed Fusion | Materials: Aluminum, Titanium & Nickel | Build Volume: 800 x 400 x 500 mm
Let’s talk about this giant of a DMLM (Direct Metal Laser Melting) printer.
With a build volume of 800 x 400 x 500 mm, the GE X Line 2000R is one of THE largest metal 3D printers out there. It’s like the metaphorical elephant in a room, except it’s not metaphorical and the elephant has a GE logo on it.
In fact, at 9200 kg, this printer weighs more than an elephant – giving you an idea of the sheer magnitude of it.
With TWO whole 1 kilowatt lasers, you can bet this printer is ready to fry out some huge prints. If you need to print really large things, and we mean LARGE, especially in the aerospace, automotive, and mining industries — this is definitely the printer for you.
The 2000R can print at a rate of 120 cubic centimeters an hour. And here’s something for efficiency: It lets you use two build modules at the same time, AND each new build is automatically transferred from handling to the processing side to make things quick and snappy.
This printer unfortunately comes with a closed material system, which means you’re limited to using GE’s own materials but it supports AlSi10Mg alloy, which is ideal for applications that require high strength and buildability.
3D Printer Type: Material Jetting | Materials: Copper & Aluminum | Build Volume: 1000 x 700 mm
Ever wanted to warp through space and time? Well, this printer won’t help you do it, but it comes close enough. The Spee3D WarpSPEE3D is actually the fastest metal 3D printer out there. So if you’re looking for unbridled, unparalleled production speed at 100g/min, this printer is definitely the one for you.
Here’s what makes it so fast: The WarpSPEE3D uses supersonic 3D deposition (SP3D) that uses a rocket nozzle to accelerate air up to THREE TIMES the speed of sound. That’s crazy!
The metal powder is then thrown into the accelerated air to make a sort of aluminum tornado, which starts making the particles bind together.
And it actually holds the world record for fastest 3D print of a 1kg part in just a little over 10 minutes — a copper hammer. In just 10 minutes.
It’s also printed a 265 x 300 mm high 20kg rocket nozzle which was printed in 7 hours and 48 minutes — a significantly less amount of time than the six months it would take to traditionally manufacture.
The WarpSPEE3D offers a build volume of a whopping 1000 x 700 mm and allows you to build parts of up to 40kg weight. It supports copper metal powder and of course, aluminum.
What is Aluminum 3D Printing?
Aluminum 3D printing is a method of manufacturing aluminum/aluminum alloys through various different additive manufacturing technologies, as opposed to traditional manufacturing through CNC (subtractive) methods.
Such 3D printing technologies typically involve lasers melting or sintering metal powder, such as with SLM and SLS. But there are some alternatives as well.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into these technologies.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) uses a laser to fuse metal powder through sintering. Sintering makes a powder turn solid without any melting involved. Because of this, SLS requires less energy than SLM, which needs to fully heat up the metals to their melting point.
Direct Energy Deposition (DED)
Direct Energy Deposition (DED) is a 3D printing method which uses lasers and energy beams to melt metal wire deposited by a nozzle.The material is added one layer at a time and then solidifies as it cools to become a solid object. This is the most affordable metal 3D printing method out there, but objects printed with this method require a lot of post-processing.
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a 3D manufacturing process in which a powdered metal is melted by a high-energy beam of electrons in a vacuum. The metal then turns solid. This technology is perfect for high-temperature superalloys, which are primarily used in the making of jet and rocket engines.
Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is a metal 3D printing technology that melts metal powder with lasers. It’s similar to Electron Beam Melting (EBM), but rather than using electrons, it uses a photon beam to melt the powder, which then cools and turns solid. SLM printing does not need to take place in a vacuum, unlike EBM. SLM 3D printing allows you to work with a huge variety of metals.
Check out our reviews of the top SLM 3D printers here.
What Can You 3D Print with Aluminum?
Here’s the answer: A whole lot of stuff, and not just tin foil hats!
Aluminum isn’t only suitable for manufacturing, but also for prototyping and tooling parts.
A heat exchanger is an example of a part that requires strong yet thin and lightweight walls — the type of complex design that additive manufacturing can easily take on.
Now, let’s take a look at the automotive industry. Ford is working with aluminum binder jetting to produce high-volume metal parts. And Mercedes-Benz is actually 3D printing certain vehicle replacement parts out of aluminum!
In the aerospace industry, Boeing has successfully used and continues to use 3D printed custom aluminum parts for their aircrafts.
Aluminum isn’t just being used in these two industries though — it has applications in motorsports, cycling, robotics, and even jewelry. Heck, there’s even been a fully 3D printed aluminum guitar! Bet it would be great for playing metal? (I know. Terrible.)
What Aluminum Alloys Use in 3D Printing?
There’s quite a variety of aluminum alloys currently being used in metal 3D printing. This is gonna have a lot of chemical names, so hold onto your seats and brace for the high school chem flashbacks!
First off we have AlSi7Mg0. It’s a resilient yet lightweight aluminum alloy which is a mix of aluminum, silicon, and magnesium. It has a good strength/mass ratio and good thermal properties. This alloy is perfect for finer objects with complex designs.
AlSi7Mg is a strong aluminum alloy that has a high load-bearing capacity, while still being lightweight AND corrosion resistant. It’s typically used in structural components across different industries — usually aerospace, defense, and automotive applications.
AISi10Mg is arguably the most common aluminum alloy out there. It has strength, hardness, and dynamic properties. It’s also got good thermal properties, and has strong buildability for complex designs. It also has a homogenous and nearly entirely pore-free structure, which yields an impermeable material.
Its mechanical properties, when 3D printed through SLM, are better than when manufactured in traditional casting processes. It’s perfect for any application that requires good mechanical properties and low weight.
Next we have AlSi9Cu3. Thanks to its high copper content, this alloy can handle high temperatures well, which makes AlSi9Cu3 a good choice for engine manufacturing, particularly for transmission casings and engine blocks.
AlMgSc, known and trademarked as Scalmalloy, has been specifically designed for usage in the aerospace industry. And what makes it special is its strength-to-weight ratio, which is actually comparable to titanium. Wow! It’s also suitable for motorsports and automotives.
Al 6061 and Al 7075
The alloys Al 6061 and Al 7075 have also been successfully printed. Aluminum alloys in the 6000 series are usually used in electronics and 7075 is particularly good for aerospace applications.
Benefits of 3D Printing Aluminum
Aluminum, unlike many metals, is highly resistant to corrosion and oxidation. This makes it suitable for usage in different environments and applications. Also, it has a really good strength-to-weight ratio, meaning that it offers a lot of strength while still being lightweight.
Now let’s take a look at what makes 3D printing better than traditional manufacturing.
With aluminum 3D printing, you can create parts with lattices and internal channels that reduce weight. You can also print multiple parts at once, making life a whole lot easier. Also, you’ve got much greater design freedom — with additive manufacturing, you can take on designs and geometries that are literally impossible with traditional manufacturing.
When it comes to waste, metal additive manufacturing is less wasteful than CNC manufacturing, which is a subtractive method that results in a lot of waste. And the costs of CNC manufacturing include casting, tooling, and molding — which can end up being pricey.
Also, unlike with traditional manufacturing, additive manufacturing gives you the freedom to print aluminum parts on demand. This saves a lot of time and money, and you don’t have to rely on third parties should the need ever arise.
Disadvantages of 3D Printing Aluminum
There are stronger materials than aluminum. For example, titanium features a higher strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum. However, it is also much more expensive and can be heavier in weight.
As for 3D printing, it can also have its limitations — it can be expensive to adopt at first, and 3D printed parts, though very sturdy, are yet to reach the level of strength and sturdiness of traditionally-manufactured parts.
So Which Is the Best Aluminum 3D Printer?
The EOS M 290 is perfect if you plan on using a variety of metals including aluminum.
Want to opt for an alternative and more cost-effective printing technology? The Xerox ElemX is a great liquid metal 3D printer.
And if speed is your ultimate requirement, you can’t go wrong with the Spee3D WarpSPEE3D, the fastest metal 3D printer which is ideal for use in automotive and aerospace applications.