A ‘boom’ of metal 3D printing is underway in Finland

3D printing of metal products or, to use a more technical term, additive manufacturing (AM) is currently the fastest growing sector in manufacturing technology worldwide.

High-tech sectors, including the aerospace industry, medicine and dentistry and the automotive industry, have been on the frontline of deploying metal printing methods.

When we look at the sales of equipment in Finland in recent years, and especially the number of commercial companies offering metal 3D printing services, we can say that the ‘boom’ in additive manufacturing of metal products has finally got off the ground also in Finland, and the availability of commercial printing capacity is currently relatively good. This is also reflected as increased activity in the domestic industry. The most visible result so far is the Finnish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem (FAME) established by key actors in the sector.

3D printing of metal products will take its place among the other manufacturing methods of metal components. In small series production of plastic components, the additive manufacturing process is already a relatively commonly used technique. Rather than competing with traditional methods, AM methods for metal products can be seen as offering new opportunities for optimising the product and solving technical challenges.

Metal printers currently account for 1.6% of the total sales of CNC equipment, or computer-controlled machine tools, and this share has been estimated to grow by about 4% over five years, with an annual growth of almost 30%. In total, the sales of CNC equipment are expected to increase by more than 7% annually over the next five years.

Powder bed fusion is currently the most common method for the additive manufacturing of metal products out of less than 20 different methods. It currently accounts for about 90% of all metal printers. In powder bed fusion, thin layers of metal powder are applied to the printing bed and melted with a laser or electron beam. This method makes it possible to create shapes that are very difficult and, in some cases, even impossible to achieve with other manufacturing methods. As a relatively precise method it enables, among other things, more efficient functional optimisation of the component and the combination of several parts into one piece. As the flip side of the coin can be considered the fact that the method is slow and expensive, and the piece size is limited.

The next most common techniques are direct energy deposition methods, in which the material is melted directly onto the structure using a laser beam or a MIG/MAG welding arc. The advantages of these methods are their high speed and the possibility of manufacturing large pieces, and in some cases they are a good alternative to casting. They are also good techniques for repairing components. The results of direct energy deposition methods are relatively rough, which is why the pieces are usually machined after printing. In addition, new methods based on a multi-step process are coming into the market, in which the devices are relatively affordable but the printing media slightly more expensive.

Companies are not the only ones to make use of 3D printing of metal products. The role of the Future Manufacturing Technologies research group at the University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute in the AM boom of metal products in Finland is producing and sharing research evidence and providing expert assistance in using these methods. Our group studies the properties of printed materials, cost-effective manufacturing methods, possibilities of improving the competitive factors of the end product, and taking these perspectives into account in the design stage. Some information and examples of using the methods can be found on the Internet in Finnish, and plenty more in English. Training and support are also available from the University of Oulu and commercial printing service providers.


Kari Mäntyjärvi, Development Manager, Future Manufacturing Technologies (FMT) research group

This blog was originally published in the newspaper Keskipohjanmaa on 11 April 2021 as part of an article series by the staff at University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute.