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Industrial 3D Printing Technologies Explained

An overview of the most common 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies and processes.

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Industrial 3D Printing Technologies Explained

An overview of the most common 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies and processes.

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What is 3D Printing? All Major Technologies Explained.

The term "3D printing" and "additive manufacturing" are used interchangeably and encompasses several additive manufacturing technologies that vary by mechanical properties, surface finish and its capability to produce end-use parts at high volumes. The defining feature of 3D printing is that it builds parts ground up; this is in contrast to subtractive methods such as CNC that starts with a block of material and remove material to create a final part. The additive nature of 3D printing means that it allows for significantly more design freedom enabling the creation of highly complex parts not possible with any other manufacturing method. 

The low of setup cost and speed of manufacturing one-off parts using 3D printing has historically made it very popular for prototyping, however newer technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering, Multi-Jet Fusion and Direct Metal Laser Sintering has allowed additive technologies to be used in all sorts of functional applications from automotive, aerospace, robotics to surgical implants and medical devices.

Selecting the right 3D printing process depends on your application, budget, and number of parts required. Determining the purpose of your part will inform which 3D printing technology will be best suited to your application. Not all parts are suitable for 3D Printing, and therefore understanding the best manufacturing method for your project will ensure the get the most out of the capabilities of each 3D printing technology.

The guide below is designed to breakdown the major technologies used today and offer insight into which technology is best for different applications from prototyping to end-use manufacturing. If you need help selecting a material or technology to suit your project, please don't hesitate to contact us!

What is 3D Printing? All Major Technologies Explained

The term "3D printing" and "additive manufacturing" are used interchangeably and encompasses several additive manufacturing technologies that vary by mechanical properties, surface finish and its capability to produce end-use parts at high volumes. The defining feature of 3D Printing is that it builds parts ground up; this is in contrast to subtractive methods such as CNC that starts with a block of material and remove material to create a final part. The additive nature of 3D Printing means that it allows for significantly more design freedom enabling the creation of highly complex parts not possible with any other manufacturing method. 

The speed of 3D printing has historically made it very popular for prototyping, however newer technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering, Multi-Jet Fusion and Direct Metal Laser Sintering has allowed additive technologies to be used in all sorts of functional applications from automotive, aerospace, robotics to surgical implants and medical devices.

Selecting the right 3D printing process depends on your application, budget, and end quantity required. Determining the purpose of your part will inform which 3D printing technology below will be best suited to your application. Not all parts are suitable for 3D Printing, and therefore understanding the best manufacturing method for your project will ensure the get the most out of the capabilities of each 3D printing technology.

If you need help selecting a material or technology, please don't hesitate to contact us!

SLS Icon

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

95%

End-Use Production

80%

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Explained

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an ideal additive manufacturing process for producing end-use parts and functional prototypes. Parts printed using SLS offer exceptional durability, accuracy and repeatability along with a matte uniform surface finish. This technology requires no support removal or post curing. This means ultra fast turnarounds of highly repeatable parts that requiring minimal labor.  Parts produced in SLS are a suitable alternative to injection molding, and is ideal for quantities anywhere from 1-1000+.  

How it Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of polymer that is selectively fused together via a high powered laser. After each sintering stage, a recoater blade passes more powder over the bed in increments of 60 - 100 micron layers. Parts can be stacked in both X, Y & Z allowing for every corner of the build volume to be utilized offering excellent part throughput. A single build has the potential to 3D print thousands of highly complex parts in less than 24 hours.

Applications

Choose SLS technology when you need functional prototypes or or need to mass produce high volumes of complex parts. This technology is the industries catch-all with numerous applications from directly manufacturing end-use parts to one off prototypes.

4

High Performance Materials 

26" x 22"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.25

MM Part Tolerances

2-5 Day

Average Lead Time

SLA Icon

Durability

80%

Surface Finish

95%

End-Use Production

70%

Stereolithography (SLA) Explained

Stereolithography (SLA) is ideal for manufacturing high detail parts with fine details in a wide range of resins from rigid, flexible to transparent. Forge Labs uses 3D Systems industrial vat polymerization SLA printers, which offer exceptional mechanical properties, high tolerances and uniform surface finish. These industrial SLA 3D printers require very little supports to support parts, resulting in no visible support touchmarks. This technology is ideal for medical devices, master patterns, microfluidics, movie props, art, molds and lots more.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured inside a vat of resin that is cured using a UV laser to form a solid object. There are two types of Stereolithography printers: Inverted and non-inverted 3D printing. Forge Labs uses non-inverted SLA 3D Printing as it significantly reduces peeling forces between each cured layers resulting in less deformation,  stronger parts and a significantly better surface finish as no support defects are leftover.

Applications

Choose SLA technology when you need to produce prototypes, master patterns, or high detail concepts. The biggest advantage of this technology is the ultra smooth surface it offers and the excellent print resolution and accuracy.

6

High Performance Materials 

59" x 30"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.2

MM Part Tolerances

1-5 Day

Average Lead Time

FDM Icon

Durability

85%

Surface Finish

70%

End-Use Production

90%

Fused Deposition (FDM) Explained

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most widely known and commonly used 3D printing technology. It has been around since 1989 is typically the technology people associate most with 3D printing. Industrial FDM 3D printers are a little different than the smaller desktop machines popularized in the past decade. Forge Labs uses Stratasys Industrial 3D Printers, which offer large build volumes, as well as excellent mechanical, exceptionally high accuracy and repeatable results.  Due to the fully enclosed and heated build chamber, FDM is capable of producing parts with the tightest tolerances in the 3D printing industry in a very wide range of thermoplastics suitable for functional applications from subsea, to automotive to aerospace.

How It Works

Thin filament is melted by a high temperature extruder and deposited onto a build platform inside of a heated build chamber kept just below the melting temperature of the thermoplastic being printed with. Stratasys FDM printers use two print heads, one for model and one for support. Once builds are complete, support is dissolved off in a ultrasonic cleaning tank requiring no manual removal of supports and no defects leftover on the part.

Applications

Choose FDM when you need strong, functional parts that are dimensionally stable in a wide range of thermoplastics. The material is most popular for its ability to build in specialized materials useful for medical devices, electric static dissipative parts, high temperature applications or applications where Flame, Smoke Toxicity (FST) ratings are critical.

14

High Performance Materials 

36" x 24"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.15

MM Part Tolerances

2-5 Day

Average Lead Time

Multi-Jet Fusion Icon

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

85%

End-Use Production

95%

HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) Explained

Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP is the newest additive manufacturing technology to enter the market and our lineup. Developed by Hewlett-Packard, HP's MJF offers unparalleled manufacturing speed as it uses an array of inkjet print heads to deposit fusing agents onto a bed of polymers allowing for blazingly fast print speeds. This makes MJF a very capable substitute for injection molding, leading to lower production costs, and faster turnarounds. Parts that are printed using MJF 3D printing are fully dense, watertight and offer consistent mechanical properties without the highy visible layers seen in other 3D printing technologies.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of polymer powder that is fused together via a inkjet array of sintering and detailing agents that selective fuses it together. After each pass of sintering agents, a recoater deposits another thin layer of powder over the bed in 80 micron layers until the process is complete. Parts are then cooled between 24-48 hours and then extracted from the bed of polymer powder, sorted, and bead blasted to remove any excess powder.

Applications

Choose MJF when you need to produce high quantities of complex functional parts. Parts can be stacked in both X, Y & Z allowing for every corner of the build volume to be utilized offering excellent part throughput. We recommend taking advantage of MJF's 3D printing speeds when you part quantities required are in excess of 100 units as the larger build volume tends to make it a less accurate and efficient than Selective Laser Sintering for smaller quantities.

2

High Performance Materials 

15" x 12"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.3

MM Part Tolerances

3-8 Day

Average Lead Time

FDM Icon

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

90%

End-Use Production

95%

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) Explained

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is ideal for manufacturing fully dense, functional & complex metal parts and prototypes.  Part are produced additively using a laser that selectively sinters metal powder, layer by layer to form a homogenous part. This technology is ideal for simplifying multi part assembles into a single part, or producing lightweight, hollow parts with internal channels not possible by traditional methods. This makes the technology popular in automotive and aerospace manufacturing where the manufacturing flexibility of DMLS allows for parts to be produced lighter and stronger, increasing the efficiency of the vehicle or aircraft.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of metallic powder that is selectively sintered together via a high powered laser to weld each layer together. After each sintering stage, a recoater arm passes more metal powder over the bed in 40 micron layers. The process is similar to Selective Laser Sintering, however parts cannot be stacked in Z as they require supports to adhere it and stabilize the part to the build platform.

Applications

Choose DMLS when you need to produce low volumes of highly complexity,  end use metal parts of geometries that cannot be easily machined. This technology is typically more expensive than machining, however it does unlock more design possibilities allowing for geometries to be built not previously possible with traditional manufacturing methods. 

3

High Performance Materials 

10" x 12"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.3

MM Part Tolerances

8-10 Day

Average Lead Time

PolyJet Icon

Durability

65%

Surface Finish

85%

End-Use Production

55%

PolyJet Matrix 3D Printing Explained

PolyJet Matrix Technology is a resin based 3D printing technology that is uniquely capable of mixing materials on the fly to create multi material prints. Forge Labs prints using a Stratasys Connex3, which is capable of blending rubber-like, rigid and clear resins into a single part. However there also exists PolyJet 3D Printers capable of 3D printing in full CMYK color to create highly realistic, full color prototypes, concepts and art. PolyJet is ideal for producing soft touch parts, over molds and rubber-like products in shore values between A30-A95.

How It Works

PolyJet uses multiple inkjet print heads to jet microscopic layers of resin onto a build platform in 14-28 micron layers. Each layer is cured using a UV light during each pass. The technology is similar to how color inkjet printing works, allowing this unique 3D printing technology to combine materials on the fly to create thousand of different combinations of shore colors, shore hardness and unique properties in a single build.  New advances in PolyJet machines have made it possible to print full colour parts also possible to create full colour parts

Applications

Choose PolyJet when you need to produce overmolds, soft touch parts, and rubber-like prototypes.  Rigid materials can be combined  with elastomers to create different shore values and hardness's between A30-A95.  The technology is primarily used for visual prototypes or aesthetic parts and not suitable for end-use parts.

 

6

High Performance Materials 

20" x 15"

Max X/Y Build Volume

± 0.2

MM Part Tolerances

2-5 Day

Average Lead Time

SLS Icon

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Explained

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an ideal additive manufacturing process for producing end-use parts and functional prototypes. Parts printed using SLS offer exceptional durability, accuracy and repeatability along with a matte uniform surface finish. This technology requires no support removal or post curing. This means ultra fast turnarounds of highly repeatable parts that requiring minimal labor.  Parts produced in SLS are a suitable alternative to injection molding, and is ideal for quantities anywhere from 1-1000+.  

How it Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of polymer that is selectively fused together via a high powered laser. After each sintering stage, a recoater blade passes more powder over the bed in increments of 60 - 100 micron layers. Parts can be stacked in both X, Y & Z allowing for every corner of the build volume to be utilized offering excellent part throughput. A single build has the potential to 3D print thousands of highly complex parts in less than 24 hours.

Applications

Choose SLS technology when you need functional prototypes or or need to mass produce high volumes of complex parts. This technology is the industries catch-all with numerous applications from directly manufacturing end-use parts to one off prototypes.

5

Performance Materials

26" x 22"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.25

MM Part Tolerances

2-5 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

95%

End-Use Production

80%
View All Polymers
SLA Icon

Stereolithography (SLA) Explained

Stereolithography (SLA) is ideal for manufacturing high detail parts with fine details in a wide range of resins from rigid, flexible to transparent. Forge Labs uses 3D Systems industrial vat polymerization SLA printers, which offer exceptional mechanical properties, high tolerances and uniform surface finish. These industrial SLA 3D printers require very little supports to support parts, resulting in no visible support touchmarks. This technology is ideal for medical devices, master patterns, microfluidics, movie props, art, molds and lots more.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured inside a vat of resin that is cured using a UV laser to form a solid object. There are two types of Stereolithography printers: Inverted and non-inverted 3D printing. Forge Labs uses non-inverted SLA 3D Printing as it significantly reduces peeling forces between each cured layers resulting in less deformation,  stronger parts and a significantly better surface finish as no support defects are leftover.

Applications

Choose SLA technology when you need to produce prototypes, master patterns, or high detail concepts. The biggest advantage of this technology is the ultra smooth surface it offers and the excellent print resolution and accuracy.

6

Performance Materials

59" x 30"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.2

MM Part Tolerances

1-5 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

80%

Surface Finish

95%

End-Use Production

70%
View All SLA Resins
FDM Icon

Fused Deposition (FDM) Explained

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is the most widely known and commonly used 3D printing technology. It has been around since 1989 is typically the technology people associate most with 3D printing. Industrial FDM 3D printers are a little different than the smaller desktop machines popularized in the past decade. Forge Labs uses Stratasys Industrial 3D Printers, which offer large build volumes, as well as excellent mechanical, exceptionally high accuracy and repeatable results.  Due to the fully enclosed and heated build chamber, FDM is capable of producing parts with the tightest tolerances in the 3D printing industry in a very wide range of thermoplastics suitable for functional applications from subsea, to automotive to aerospace.

How It Works

Thin filament is melted by a high temperature extruder and deposited onto a build platform inside of a heated build chamber kept just below the melting temperature of the thermoplastic being printed with. Stratasys FDM printers use two print heads, one for model and one for support. Once builds are complete, support is dissolved off in a ultrasonic cleaning tank requiring no manual removal of supports and no defects leftover on the part.

Applications

Choose FDM when you need strong, functional parts that are dimensionally stable in a wide range of thermoplastics. The material is most popular for its ability to build in specialized materials useful for medical devices, electric static dissipative parts, high temperature applications or applications where Flame, Smoke Toxicity (FST) ratings are critical.

14

Performance Materials

36" x 24"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.15

MM Part Tolerances

1-5 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

85%

Surface Finish

70%

End-Use Production

90%
View All FDM Plastics
Multi-Jet Fusion Icon

HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D Printing Explained

Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP is the newest additive manufacturing technology to enter the market and our lineup. Developed by Hewlett-Packard, HP's MJF offers unparalleled manufacturing speed as it uses an array of inkjet print heads to deposit fusing agents onto a bed of polymers allowing for blazingly fast print speeds. This makes MJF a very capable substitute for injection molding, leading to lower production costs, and faster turnarounds. Parts that are printed using MJF 3D printing are fully dense, watertight and offer consistent mechanical properties without the highy visible layers seen in other 3D printing technologies.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of polymer powder that is fused together via a inkjet array of sintering and detailing agents that selective fuses it together. After each pass of sintering agents, a recoater deposits another thin layer of powder over the bed in 80 micron layers until the process is complete. Parts are then cooled between 24-48 hours and then extracted from the bed of polymer powder, sorted, and bead blasted to remove any excess powder.

Applications

Choose MJF when you need to produce high quantities of complex functional parts. Parts can be stacked in both X, Y & Z allowing for every corner of the build volume to be utilized offering excellent part throughput. We recommend taking advantage of MJF's 3D printing speeds when you part quantities required are in excess of 100 units as the larger build volume tends to make it a less accurate and efficient than Selective Laser Sintering for smaller quantities.

2

Performance Materials

16" x 12"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.3

MM Part Tolerances

4-8 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

85%

End-Use Production

95%
View All MJF Polymers
FDM Icon

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) Explained

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is ideal for manufacturing fully dense, functional & complex metal parts and prototypes.  Part are produced additively using a laser that selectively sinters metal powder, layer by layer to form a homogenous part. This technology is ideal for simplifying multi part assembles into a single part, or producing lightweight, hollow parts with internal channels not possible by traditional methods. This makes the technology popular in automotive and aerospace manufacturing where the manufacturing flexibility of DMLS allows for parts to be produced lighter and stronger, increasing the efficiency of the vehicle or aircraft.

How It Works

Parts are manufactured in a bed of metallic powder that is selectively sintered together via a high powered laser to weld each layer together. After each sintering stage, a recoater arm passes more metal powder over the bed in 40 micron layers. The process is similar to Selective Laser Sintering, however parts cannot be stacked in Z as they require supports to adhere it and stabilize the part to the build platform.

Applications

Choose DMLS when you need to produce low volumes of highly complexity,  end use metal parts of geometries that cannot be easily machined. This technology is typically more expensive than machining, however it does unlock more design possibilities allowing for geometries to be built not previously possible with traditional manufacturing methods. 

3

Performance Materials

10" x 12"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.3

MM Part Tolerances

8-10 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

90%

Surface Finish

90%

End-Use Production

95%
View All DMLS Metals
PolyJet Icon

PolyJet Matrix 3D Printing Explained

PolyJet Matrix Technology is a resin based 3D printing technology that is uniquely capable of mixing materials on the fly to create multi material prints. Forge Labs prints using a Stratasys Connex3, which is capable of blending rubber-like, rigid and clear resins into a single part. However there also exists PolyJet 3D Printers capable of 3D printing in full CMYK color to create highly realistic, full color prototypes, concepts and art. PolyJet is ideal for producing soft touch parts, over molds and rubber-like products in shore values between A30-A95.

How It Works

PolyJet uses multiple inkjet print heads to jet microscopic layers of resin onto a build platform in 14-28 micron layers. Each layer is cured using a UV light during each pass. The technology is similar to how color inkjet printing works, allowing this unique 3D printing technology to combine materials on the fly to create thousand of different combinations of shore colors, shore hardness and unique properties in a single build.  New advances in PolyJet machines have made it possible to print full colour parts also possible to create full colour parts

Applications

Choose PolyJet when you need to produce overmolds, soft touch parts, and rubber-like prototypes.  Rigid materials can be combined  with elastomers to create different shore values and hardness's between A30-A95.  The technology is primarily used for visual prototypes or aesthetic parts and not suitable for end-use parts.

5

Performance Materials

20" x 15"

Max X/Y Build Size

± 0.2

MM Part Tolerances

3-5 Day

Average Lead Time

Durability

65%

Surface Finish

85%

End-Use Production

55%
View All PolyJet Resins

Forge Labs 3D Printing & Advanced Manufacturing

Forge Labs Icon

6

Advanced Manufacturing Technologies

50+ 

Performance 3D Print Materials

1M+ 

3D Printed Parts Manufactured 

 

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