3D printing’s greatest advantage is in the flexibility it allows in part design – parts with undercuts and zero draft can be manufactured. A newly developed technique might give 3D printing another advantage: integrally combining multiple metal materials in the same part .

The technique involves using a laser to melt metal powder in an additive manufacturing process. What’s unique is that different metals can be introduced as the part is being built, resulting in a part that exhibits the characteristics of the different metals in different areas. For instance a metal with a low coefficient of expansion could be deposited in one area that specifically requires it, and a metal with magnetic properties or other desired characteristics could be used in a different area of the part. A single part with continuous transition from metal to metal has advantages over a similar part that is created using welding or other joining techniques.

The process is being developed for use in the space industry initially, but it will certainly find uses in other industries, medical products being one of them.