3D Printing Processes

How to Choose Between 3D Printing Processes?

24 January 2020
3D Printing Market

3D Printing Processes

There has never been a better time for companies to look into the 3D printing market.  3D printers are more affordable than ever before, and there are plenty of resources available for training workers to use these systems.  However, there are several competing standards and methods for creating 3D printed items. The adoption of the tech requires picking one of these standards.

The three most common methods in the current 3D printing market are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and Stereolithography (SLA).   Let's take a brief look at the major differences between these standards.

Fusion Deposition Modeling

FDM is the method of 3D printing most commonly seen in the home, hobbyist, and small business markets.  It involves melting and extruding a thermoplastic filament with a nozzle depositing the plastic layer by layer to build up the final object.  

FDM printers are the most inexpensive to own and operate, with both the machines and the thermoplastic being cheap to obtain.  However, they also have the lowest printing resolution, as well as the lowest level of accuracy. So, they are best used for simple jobs such as rough proof-of-concept prototyping.  They rarely produce parts that would be fit for active use.

Selective Laser Sintering

SLS is the method most commonly seen in the industrial sector.  SLS uses a polymer powder, which is then heated and fused with a high-powered laser.  One major benefit to SLS systems is that the powder itself acts as a support system while the object is being built.  Unlike FDM, there's no need to build a support structure that has to be later cut away.

In addition, the resulting pieces have excellent material properties and can be quite reliable.  SLS systems produce working prototype parts and can also be utilized for custom part production.

Stereolithography

SLA is the oldest 3D printing technology, but still one of the most reliable and widely used.  It starts with a photoreactive resin, which is cured with a high-powered laser.  SLA has the highest resolution and the highest accuracy of all 3D printing methods, along with producing the smoothest and most finished parts.  It's flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of applications.

The primary drawback is cost.  Both the machines and the resin are expensive, but high-quality results often justify the price.

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