3D printing - introduction

3D printing is a process in which material is joined or solidified under computer control to create an object. Material is being added and some of the ways to do that is by powder grains being fused together or liquid plastic melted on top a previous layer. This type of manufacturing, with material being added instead of subtracted is called additive manufacturing.

3D printing is most commonly used in rapid prototyping.
Rapid prototyping is a process in which objects are produced directly from CAD models. They can be of almost any shape with some limitations depending on type of 3D printing technology.

The most common 3D printing technique is fused deposit modeling (FDM).  Whit FDM model is built by adding layers of melted plastic on top of each other. Produced objects can be moderately complex because of the need for support material and some other limitations. Application of FDM printers is slowly shifting from professional use to use in education and hobbies. In education there is a lot of different projects; one of them is  SMARS  - modular 3D printable robot for kids. Hobbyist use this type of printers to produce toys, cosplay props, lithophanes – a 3D printed pictures and many other things.

Although FDM printers are widely spread with big number of users they are rarely used in industry and science. In these fields selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printers are commonly used to manufacture prototypes and small batches of products. Besides SLS there are other types of 3D printing process like DMLS , SLA and PolyJet.

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is 3D printing technique which uses a laser as a power source to sinter polyamide or nylon powder in the shape of a current layer defined by the geometry of a CAD model. This binds layer of the material together to create a solid part. SLS is used in manufacturing complex parts some of which can’t be produced any other way.

Parts produced by SLS are dimensionally accurate and very durable with high level of detail. More about our SLS machine EOS FORMIGA P110 can be read here. Direct metal sintering (DMLS) is similar process with just a few different technical details.

Stereolithography (SLA) and PolyJet both use photopolymerization of a UV curable resin which is deposited and cured in different ways depending on the technique used in a 3D printing process.