These days, anyone can print plastic parts at home using a 3D printer. And for some time now, additive manufacturing is also being used to print metal components. This technology is really turning traditional metal processing on its head: In contrast to manufacturing processes that remove material like milling and turning, additive manufacturing, as the name implies, adds it. Metal powder is applied layer by layer, and a laser then fuses the component into the desired geometry. As a materials specialist, Heraeus has long been interested in this innovative technology, founding an internal startup in 2015 following several years of development. “Heraeus provided us with support and the freedom to build up our current expertise with an interdisciplinary team of material scientists and engineers,” recalls Tobias Caspari, Head of H3D, about the startup’s early days. “It was an excellent situation.” The team has made good use of this freedom. In only a few years, H3D has made a name for itself with internal and external partners.
Adding rather than subtracting
Building up instead of removing—it may sound trivial, but it’s a fascinating shift in perspective. “Imagine that you want to manufacture a hollow sphere. The only way to do that with traditional methods would be to join two hemispheres. But with additive manufacturing we can print it as a single piece. This allows for totally different geometries,” Tobias Caspari explains. Freedom of design is one of the major advantages of metal 3D printing. “A lot of what engineers learn about limitations in traditional manufacturing technologies can be tossed out the window when it comes to 3D printing,” adds Alexander Elsen, Head of Innovation at H3D. “We are now able to print what was once unthinkable.”