Electron Beam Melting: Everything You Need To Know About EBM 3D Printing

electron beam melting

Electron Beam Melting is one of the variety of different types of 3D printing technologies. Unlike FDM or SLA, Electron Beam Melting is used with metals only, and is a form of powder bed fusion similar to DMLS or SLM.

Electron Beam Melting: A History

Although not as well-known as stereolithography or fused deposition modeling, EBM is used fairly regularly in industrial metal 3D printing. Electron Beam Melting is similar to SLS in that both 3D print from a powder bed through powder bed fusion. Since its invention, the technique has thus far only been used by Arcam in the 3 metal 3D printers they sell.

Reading Time: Approx 4 mins

Introduction: Before Printing

Before 3D printing with Electron Beam Melting, you need a 3D CAD file of the model you wish to print. You can download these files from sites such as Thingiverse, and then you must send them to a slicer such as Cura. Once the file is sliced, you are ready to 3D print your model.

Electron Beam Melting 3D Printing

In EBM, fully dense metal components are created from a powder bed of metal powder and melted by a powerful electron beam. Each layer is melted according the the 3D CAD file sent to the 3D printer.

Electron Beam Melting utilises a high-power electron beam capable of melting the powder. This electron beam is managed through electromagnetic coils which allow for extremely fast and accurate beam control. In addition, this allows several different ‘melt pools’ (different objects within the same build at the same time) to be maintained simultaneously.

electron beam melting process
This slide outlines the main parts of the Electron Beam Melting process.

The Electron Beam Melting process takes place in a vacuum and at high temperatures. This results in metal parts produced with better material properties than through casting. Maintaining a clean and controlled build environment is a key factor in maintaining the chemical specifications of the 3D printed part.

Whilst 3D printing each layer, the electron beam heats the entire powder bed to an optimum temperature. This temperature depends on the material used. This heating of the powder bed means that parts printed using Electron Beam Melting are free from residual stresses and have better mechanical properties.

In EBM, the build envelope can be filled by multiple objects built at the same time as long as they are all attached to the build platform.

Part created with Electron Beam Melting
A small metal part created via Electron Beam Melting.

Electron Beam Melting: Post-Processing

After printing, any unsolidified powder can be retrieved and reused in a future print. This saves money and is far more efficient than other 3D printing methods where as little as 20% of the total powder used is actually sintered.

EBM, like FDM and SLA, requires the use of supports when 3D printing. This is to anchor parts to the build platform and prevent overhanging pieces from becoming unstable. In addition, these supports transfer heat away from where the powder is being melted, reducing thermal stress on the part. This helps to prevent warping.

Laser vs Electron Beam

Electron Beam Melting uses, as the name suggests, an electron beam. This differs from Selective Laser Sintering as a laser (with photons) is used instead. Direct Metal Laser Sintering also uses a laser instead.

A tungsten filament is heated in a vacuum to produce these electrons. They are projected at high speeds towards the metal powder on the powder bed in order to heat it. A vacuum is used because this stops the metal powder from oxidizing when it is heated.

This video below explains the Electron Beam Melting technology in more depth:

Electron Beam Melting Materials

Electron Beam Melting relies on electrical charges to 3D print, and therefore materials must be conductive to be used. This means that polymers and ceramics cannot be used with electron beam melting.

Commonly used metal powders include titanium and chromium-cobalt alloys. These materials are expensive however, costing between $350-450 per kg.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Electron Beam Melting

Electron Beam Melting Advantages

  • Parts 3D printed with EBM have very high density (over 99%).
  • Multiple parts can be produced simultaneously as the beam can separate powder in several places at once.
  • Requires less supports due to there being less thermal stress on parts. Requires less supports than DMLS and also builds faster.
  • Unused powder can be recovered and reused, saving money.

Electron Beam Melting Disadvantages / Limitations

  • Limited availability of materials for use in EBM.
  • The process is expensive. Requires an industrial level 3D printer and expensive materials.
  • Parts usually require a lot of post-processing.
  • Parts have a less smooth surface finish than DMLS.
  • Limited build size: the largest EBM 3D printer has a build volume of 350 x 350 x 380 mm. Some DMLS 3D printers such as Concept Laser’s X Line 2000R have a print volume of 800 x 400 x 500 mm.

Applications of Electron Beam Melting

Electron Beam Melting has applications in industries such as in the aeronautics and Motorsports industries due to the strong, high-density parts it can produce. Electron Beam Melting is also used in the biomedical industry to manufacture prostheses. Mostly however, EBM is used for small series parts and prototypes to check the structure of parts.

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