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Powder Bed Fusion

Video credit: Solid Concepts Inc.

Powder bed fusion is a process whereby specific areas of a powder bed are merged using a laser or electron beam. Similar to binder jetting, a roller applies a new powder coat after each layer. While laser systems provide well-finished surfaces and better resolution, electron beam systems are faster and produce less distortion, although they do tend to be more expensive. Although it is very difficult to find equipment that prints both metals and plastics, this method works well with both. Most 3D printing systems that fabricate metal products make use of this process. To produce polymer parts, no other support structure is needed because the powder bed serves this purpose. For metal production, anchors are usually required to fasten the parts to the platform and support the down-facing surfaces. Without anchors, the large temperature gradients can cause residual thermal stress and warping. Powder bed fusion machines are relatively expensive compared to other methods and maintenance costs are high as well. A number of post-processing steps may also be needed to print metal parts, i.e., removing residual powder, heat treatment, removing anchors, and improving the surface finish.