A headline on a 3D printing Web site announces: “Ricoh makes metal injection molding obsolete with new highly efficient metal 3D printer”.
OK, it’s still silly season in the 3D printing world.
Metal injection molding (MIM) is thriving, getting business the old-fashioned way—one tough application at a time. One example is a recent MPIF prize winner from Advanced Forming Technology, an ARC Group Worldwide Co., Longmont, Colorado, for a MIM 17-4 PH stainless steel ferrule that goes into an aerospace engine made by Rolls Royce.
The part provides a conductive path between the screen and the engine, while offering support to a cable and preventing the placement of cable loading on the screen. It shows the capabilities of MIM: complexity, net shape, accuracy. The part had been made from machined bar stock.
Oh, and guess what. The part can be manufactured in minutes in an injection molding process, as opposed to hours in a 3D printer. And what kind of strength characteristics do you get from a 3D printed part?
The annual North American powder market for MIM is in the range of 2.7 to 3.5 million pounds, according to the Metal Powder Industries federation (MPIF). The Metal Injection Molding Association (MIMA) forecasts business increasing in the 5 to 10 percent range in 2016.
“The MAM (metal additive manufacturing market) currently remains small and limited to about 15 commercially available materials,” said Patrick J. McGeehan, MPIF president, in a recent state-of-the-industry presentation. “Most companies in the Powder metal industry view MAM as a complementary technology and an opportunity to enter a new technology sector.”
The great bulk of the action in metal additive manufacturing is in laser processes, not 3D printing. Most MAM production runs are less than 100 parts.
And that Ricoh printer? It’s not even commercial, and may never be.