Technology comparison MIM and LMM


For these small and micro precision parts you should choose the LMM technology

The process map of metal additive manufacturing processes shows, especially in the area of small and micro-precision parts, that most technologies are not sufficiently suitable for such parts. The characteristics of lithography-based metal manufacturing (LMM) technology and the associated technological possibilities, characterized by high resolution and precision as well as high surface quality, lead to very good suitability in the area of small precision components. Especially when small to medium yearly requirements are needed, LMM technology is an economically viable manufacturing technology in this area. Due to the special process boundary conditions as well as the very similar process chain, components can be produced with LMM technology at a comparable level to Metal Injection Molding (MIM) technology. In this article, the advantages and useful applications of LMM technology compared to MIM will be delineated.


A major advantage of additive processes, and therefore also of LMM technology, is that the time from design to the first finished prototype is minimal. The reason, in direct comparison to MIM technology, is the elimination of time-consuming tool design and manufacturing, which can be expected to be in the range of 4 weeks to 3 months, depending on the complexity of the tool. Often, these tools have to be reworked again as part of the run-in process, which takes additional time. In contrast, with production times between 3 and 5 days, LMM technology can produce equivalent components within a short time. Tool design is superfluous.


Because of the high initial costs of MIM technology for component-specific molds, which have a proportional effect on the unit price, economically viable applications result from yearly requirements of more than 10,000 units/a, depending on the complexity and therefore the costs of the mold. Tool-less LMM technology, on the other hand, allows economical piece number 1 production. Although the decrease in costs depending on the number of units is not as pronounced with LMM technology as with MIM technology, there are numerous applications for which series production up to yearly demands of several 1,000 parts can certainly be economically represented. Which components can be economically series produced with LMM depends on numerous component and process parameters, which must be evaluated individually. In addition to the number of parts, the decisive parameters are, above all, the degree of utilization of installation space as well as component size and the amount of the construction job. Further economically viable scenarios can be presented by combining LMM and MIM. For example, LMM technology can be used for the development, prototype and start-up phases in the component life cycle. As soon as a break-even point compared to MIM technology is reached, it is possible to switch to MIM technology due to the comparable component properties.


In addition to the time and monetary aspects mentioned, the use of LMM technology results in a further advantage over MIM. Due to the tool-free production possibility, there is also comprehensive flexibility with regard to quantities, materials and the variety of variants. The direct processing of CAD data means that the increasing demand for individualization can be met without additional costs.


MIM technology can show its advantages in terms of costs and quality particularly in the case of high yearly quantities. For yearly demands below this, it is worthwhile to check the production possibilities for individual components using LMM technology. In addition to the economic aspects, however, time advantages or greater flexibility can also have an impact on the selection process of the manufacturing technology, where LMM technology has clear advantages over tool based MIM technology.

In many cases, an intelligent combination of LMM and MIM also allows the advantages of both technologies to be exploited. For example, it may make sense to use LMM as a ramp-up technology and to manufacture components using LMM for as long as this makes sense in terms of quality and economy. Another possible combination is the use of LMM technology for the production of development prototypes and pilot series, while tool design and production for the series MIM process runs in parallel in the background. In this way, reductions in development times of several weeks to months can be made possible. But how can you still work economically and flexibly during the development phase? Here, LMM could be applied as a ramp-up technology. In concrete terms, this means applying LMM in the development phase, since the process can produce prototypes cheaply and quickly, to which changes can be made with little effort. When quantities increase significantly after development, MIM technology can be used to move into volume production. Thus, users can reduce development costs and benefit from the flexibility of our technology.

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