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How Metal 3D Printing Compliments Metal Injection Molding

In today’s fast-paced world, time to market is critical when considering a new design or existing product enhancement. Here at Advanced Powder Products, APP, we harness the power of metal injection molding and 3D metal printing to reinforce and showcase the world of MIM possibilities. PrintAlloy®, APP’s proprietary 3D metal printing technology, is the fastest and most economical way to acquire metal components that inherently address the MPIF standard 35 properties. This methodology requires zero upfront tooling investment so you can functionally test your design and your MIM parts can hit the market via the most efficient path.

What is MIM?

Metal injection molding (MIM) is a manufacturing process that combines the most useful characteristics of powdered metallurgy and plastic injection molding to facilitate the production of small, complex-shaped metal components with outstanding mechanical properties.

Adopted by a variety of industries, MIM manufacturing is well-suited to produce medium to high volume components through the efficiency of dedicated tooling. A general rule of thumb MIM parts weigh less than 100 grams, have complex geometries and tight tolerances, and can fit in the palm of your hand.

In similar fashion to plastic injection molding, tool building and component qualification require some investment in tooling and time. Engineers are always looking at ways to test designs, increase speed to market, and stay on budget. When MIM is combined with metal 3D printing, an additive manufacturing technology, designs can be tested and iterated with ease.

What is Metal 3D Printing

Metal 3D printing is an advanced additive manufacturing technology that uses powdered metals to build a three-dimensional component by applying evenly distributed layers. The layers are then bound together using a high-powered laser or a device like an inkjet printer. The components are then sintered using various techniques to fuse and densify the layers together creating the final component geometry. The approach of building a part layer by layer gives the designer ultimate flexibility because you are not reliant upon machining or tooling to form complicated geometries.

Binder jet 3D metal printing also has many similarities to metal injection molding and the two technologies complement each other well. Binder jet 3D metal printing uses MIM grade powders and binding agents to print a pseudo “green” brown part that is approximately 15–20% larger than the final component. The printed green part is then sintered incorporating identical MIM production furnaces resulting in a finished component that meets the mechanical properties of their MIM counterparts.

Design Flexibility

If your application requires you to test small complex components that weigh less than 100 grams for your product assembly, APP’s approach eliminates the need to wait for expensive machined components. Printalloy®, our metal 3D printing process is the right alternative for testing and delivering you metal components in 2–10 days, not weeks or months. You get the benefit of building all the complex geometries at no extra cost. Printalloy® gives you the flexibility to change any design without the extraneous costs of tool modifications. Internal structures are also not an issue with PrintAlloy® since you do not have to worry about molding or machining limitations.

Many designs and component assemblies can be combined and merged into a single part. PrintAlloy® is the logical and obvious choice reducing the cost of labor, tooling, and extended lead times. This is a powerful opportunity to turn multiple parts into an assembly and streamline your component to the MIM process. Manufacturing will always be complex, finding the right partner with the technical solution does not have to be.

Experimental Procedure

PrintAlloy® not only meets specifications but it also addresses the MPIF Standard 35 properties. In a comparison done by APP, we lab tested the mechanical properties of Metal Injection Molding (MIM) and Printalloy® components made from 17–4PH stainless steel and heat-treated to H900.

After going through an identical sintering process, it was empirically proven that APP’s PrintAlloy® meets the chemical, mechanical strengths, and yield points for MIM 17–4 per MPIF Standard 35. PrintAlloy® provides engineers with reassurance and confidence in reducing the risk of part failure when testing and qualifying MIM component designs. For more information on this study check out our white papers at https://advancedpowderproducts.com/white-papers.

Bridge the Gap, Reduce the Risk

3D Metal printing is the ultimate bridge between your prototype and production MIM part. Metal 3D printing gives you speed, design flexibility at a fraction of the cost. This, in turn, can save you thousands of dollars in tooling costs when bringing any complex, high-volume, part to full production. 3D printing not only saves time, money, it also reduces the risk of faulty parts by being a flexible tool in adjusting when and where required.

APP’s MIM experts can also take advantage of 3D metal printing when launching and qualifying production MIM components. Because our 3D printing technology uses the same MIM powder and processing conditions as production components APP engineering can run sintering and processing experiments prior to the production tooling being built. These experiments help develop the process concurrently saving time and increasing qualification speed.

In-House Metallurgist

One great benefit of APP’s collaborative partnering process is that we view this not simply as a business transaction but as a collective investment in our customer’s future. As such you have access to one of America’s premier MIM specialists. Our owner and in-house Ph.D. Metallurgist, Don Heaney, literally wrote the Handbook of Metal Injection Molding (https://books.google.com/books/about/Handbook_of_Metal_Injection_Molding.html?id=-bePtgEACAAJ). APP is unique in being able to offer these valuable resources to our clients and associates to maximize the success of their MIM design or application. With this expertise combined with passion and ambition, APP is recognized as the fastest-growing MIM company in America located right in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Iron Man country.

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