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Can You 3D Print Pressure Vessels with Stainless Steel?

3D printing has rapidly expanded its uses across the manufacturing industry over the last decade, but is it possible to use this technology to create a stainless steel pressure vessel? 

The short answer is yes. By using the right type of printer and the right design, it’s possible to 3D print stainless steel pressure vessels.   

What type of additive manufacturing is the best option? 

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, refers to any technology used to create a three-dimensional item by stacking layers of a material. There’s a lot of different types of additive manufacturing depending on the material used and the technique to stack and bind the layers together. 

3D printing a stainless steel pressure vessel will require a printer that works with metal. Metal printers, sometimes referred to as powder bed fusion printers, work by melting metal powder in layers to create the component, usually with lasers. They can work with pure metals or with alloys. Unfortunately, there are no current ASME standards on these essential base products to enable certification. 

3D print metal stainless steel pressure vessels
A laser fusing metal powder together in a 3D printer designed for metals like stainless steel.

What are the key design features for 3D printing a pressure vessel? 

There are several things to keep in mind when designing a pressure vessel for 3D printing. First, the 3D printer will build the vessel as a single, complete part without the use of welds to hold pieces together. Some other important design considerations are listed below:  

  • Overhangs in the design may need temporary support structures 
  • Fittings and instrumentation will need to be manually attached 
  • The vessel will need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove excess metal powder, especially from the inner cavity – you don’t want metal powder contaminating what you store inside it 

Once the vessel is fully printed, it will need to be cut from the base, heat treated, and any support structures removed. It might also need other finishing steps like sanding, surface treatments, and painting before it’s ready to be used. 

While possible, standards and economics around production have not made the choice to 3D print pressure vessels widespread.  For these reasons, many applications that have the potential for 3D printing instead use custom fabricators specializing in the best materials and welding technology to create the desired result.     

Rexarc specializes in custom pressure vessels made by our expert technicians and engineers. If you have more questions about pressure vessels, please ask! You can reach us here. 



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