Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) of Metals

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is a transformative technology that has revolutionized metal production by enabling the creation of complex, customized metal parts directly from digital designs. Unlike traditional subtractive manufacturing, which involves removing material from a larger block, additive manufacturing builds objects layer by layer, offering unparalleled design freedom, reduced waste, and potential for significant energy savings.

Impact on climate action

The additive manufacturing of metals, like 3D printing, revolutionizes low-carbon metal production. It reduces energy consumption, waste, and emissions compared to traditional methods, advancing climate action by promoting sustainable metal manufacturing. Its efficiency and precision contribute to a greener industry, aligning with global efforts to mitigate climate change.


  • Layer-by-Layer Fabrication: 3D printing of metals typically involves using a focused energy source, such as a laser or electron beam, to melt and fuse metal powder or wire according to the digital design. The process is repeated layer by layer until the final object is created.
  • Diverse Metal Materials: Various metals, including stainless steel, titanium, aluminum, and nickel alloys, can be used in metal 3D printing, enabling the creation of high-performance parts with specific material properties.
  • Design Freedom and Customization: Additive manufacturing allows for the creation of complex geometries and intricate internal structures that would be impossible or highly challenging to produce using traditional manufacturing methods. This enables the design of lightweight and optimized parts for enhanced performance.

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Prominent Innovation themes

  • Multi-Material 3D Printing: This technology allows for the combination of different metals or even metals with other materials, such as ceramics or polymers, within a single part, enabling the creation of objects with unique properties and functionalities.
  • Large-Scale Metal 3D Printing: Advancements in 3D printing systems are enabling the production of larger and more complex metal parts, expanding the range of applications for this technology.
  • Hybrid Manufacturing: Combining additive manufacturing with traditional manufacturing methods, such as machining or casting, allows for greater flexibility and efficiency in producing customized parts with optimized features.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Layered Metal Fabrication Techniques
  • Versatile Metal Material Options
  • Advanced Design Freedom in Metal Printing
  • Multi-Material Integration in 3D Metal Printing
  • Scaling Up Metal 3D Printing Capabilities
  • Hybrid Metal Manufacturing Methods
  • Laser-Based Metal Fusion Technologies
  • Electron Beam Metal Printing Innovations
  • Powder Bed Fusion Techniques
  • Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing
  • Metal Binder Jetting Processes
  • Directed Energy Deposition Methods
  • Metal Filament Extrusion Technologies
  • Metal 3D Printing for Aerospace Applications
  • Medical Grade Metal Printing Solutions
  • Automotive Industry Metal Additive Manufacturing
  • Energy Sector Applications of Metal 3D Printing
  • Customized Metal Parts for Electronics

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Desktop Metal (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Desktop Metal specializes in developing and manufacturing metal 3D printing systems. Their technology encompasses a range of processes, including bound metal deposition and metal injection molding, enabling rapid prototyping and production of metal parts.
    • Uniqueness: Desktop Metal stands out for its focus on accessibility and affordability, aiming to bring metal 3D printing capabilities to a broader range of users, including small and medium-sized enterprises. They offer a range of desktop and industrial-scale systems tailored to different application needs.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments span various industries, including aerospace, automotive, healthcare, and consumer goods, where metal 3D printing can offer advantages such as design freedom, rapid iteration, and complex geometries.
  • Markforged (USA):
    • Technology Focus: Markforged specializes in composite and metal 3D printing technologies. Their unique approach involves reinforcing metal parts with continuous fibers during the printing process, resulting in parts with enhanced strength and durability.
    • Uniqueness: Markforged is known for its patented Continuous Filament Fabrication (CFF) technology, which allows for the production of metal parts with properties comparable to traditional manufacturing methods. This approach offers significant cost and time savings while maintaining high-quality standards.
    • End-User Segments: Their solutions cater to industries where strength-to-weight ratio and part performance are critical, such as aerospace, automotive, defense, and industrial manufacturing.
  • EOS (Germany):
    • Technology Focus: EOS is a pioneer in industrial metal 3D printing systems. They offer a range of metal powder bed fusion (PBF) systems capable of producing complex metal parts with excellent accuracy and surface finish.
    • Uniqueness: EOS is known for its expertise in laser-based metal 3D printing technology, enabling the production of highly detailed and functional metal parts for various applications. They also provide a comprehensive ecosystem of software and materials to support the entire additive manufacturing process.
    • End-User Segments: Their target segments include industries with demanding requirements for metal parts, such as aerospace, medical devices, automotive, and tooling. EOS’s solutions are often used for producing lightweight, complex, and customized components.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Technology Enhancements: MIT researchers are pioneering advancements in additive manufacturing processes for low-carbon metals, focusing on enhancing the precision, speed, and material properties achievable through 3D printing techniques. They’re exploring novel printing methods, such as directed energy deposition and laser powder bed fusion, to optimize the fabrication of low-carbon metal components.
    • Uniqueness of Research: MIT’s research stands out for its integration of computational modeling and machine learning algorithms to optimize the additive manufacturing process parameters in real-time. This approach enables rapid iteration and fine-tuning of printing conditions, leading to improved part quality and reduced material waste.
    • End-use Applications: The additive manufacturing techniques developed at MIT have broad applications across industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medical devices. By enabling the production of lightweight, high-strength components from low-carbon metals, these technologies contribute to the advancement of sustainable manufacturing practices and the reduction of carbon emissions.
  • Carnegie Mellon University (USA):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are focused on developing innovative materials and processes for additive manufacturing of low-carbon metals. They’re exploring the use of novel metal alloys and hybrid manufacturing approaches, combining additive and subtractive techniques, to achieve superior part performance and dimensional accuracy.
    • Uniqueness of Research: CMU’s research emphasizes the integration of in-situ process monitoring and control systems to ensure the quality and consistency of 3D printed metal parts. By leveraging advanced sensing technologies and real-time feedback mechanisms, they can detect and mitigate defects during the printing process, enhancing the reliability and reproducibility of manufactured components.
    • End-use Applications: The additive manufacturing technologies developed at CMU have applications in various sectors, including defense, energy, and consumer electronics. From lightweight structural components for aircraft and automotive applications to custom implants for medical devices, these advancements enable the production of complex, high-performance parts with reduced environmental impact.
  • University of Sheffield (UK):
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at the University of Sheffield are exploring new materials and processing techniques to expand the capabilities of additive manufacturing for low-carbon metals. They’re investigating the use of advanced powder metallurgy methods and metal-ceramic composites to enhance the mechanical properties and corrosion resistance of 3D printed metal components.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Sheffield’s research distinguishes itself through its focus on sustainability and circular economy principles in additive manufacturing. They’re developing closed-loop recycling systems for metal powders and exploring alternative energy sources, such as renewable hydrogen, to power 3D printing processes, minimizing the carbon footprint of metal production.
    • End-use Applications: The additive manufacturing innovations from the University of Sheffield have implications for industries such as renewable energy, transportation, and infrastructure. From lightweight components for wind turbines and electric vehicles to corrosion-resistant parts for maritime structures, these technologies contribute to the transition towards a low-carbon economy and the decarbonization of key industrial sectors.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Additive manufacturing of metals is rapidly gaining adoption across various industries, including:

  • Aerospace: Metal 3D printing is used to produce lightweight and complex components for aircraft, satellites, and rockets.
  • Automotive: This technology enables the creation of customized and optimized parts for cars and other vehicles, improving fuel efficiency and performance.
  • Medical Devices: Metal 3D printing is used to manufacture implants, prosthetics, and surgical instruments with customized designs and biocompatible materials.