Overview of 3D Printing Technologies
All industrial 3D Print Technologies Explained
Table of Contents
What is 3D Printing?
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!
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an ideal additive manufacturing process for primary 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 requires minimal labor. Parts produced in SLS can be 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 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 next thousands of parts!
Choose SLS technology when you need functional prototypes or or need to mass produce complex parts at high volumes. This technology is the industries catch-all with numerous applications from directly manufacturing end-use parts to one off prototypes.
Stereolithography (SLA) is ideal for manufacturing high detail parts with fine details in a wide range of industrial resins. 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 & molds.
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 and stronger parts.
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.
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is most commonly available 3D Printing technology and typically the technology people think of first when they think about 3D printing. 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.
How It Works
Thin spools of material 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.
Choose FDM when you need strong, functional parts that are dimensionally stable in a wide range of thermoplastics.
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP is the newest additive manufacturing technology to enter our lineup. 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.
How It Works
Parts are manufactured in a bed of grey 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.
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.
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS)
Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is ideal for manufacturing fully 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.
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.
Choose DMLS when you need to produce low volumes of highly complexity, end use metal parts of geometries that cannot be easily machined.
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 Connex 3, which is capable of blending rubber-like, rigid and clear resins into a single part. PolyJet is ideal for producing soft touch parts, overmolds 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
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.