3D printing or Additive Manufacturing is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model or a digital 3D model. It can be done in a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined or solidified under computer control, with material being added together (such as plastics, liquids or powder grains being fused), typically layer by layer.
In the 1980s, 3D printing techniques were considered suitable only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes, and a more appropriate term for it at the time was Rapid Prototyping. As of 2019, the precision, repeatability, and material range of 3D printing have increased to the point that some 3D printing processes are considered viable as an industrial-production technology, whereby the term additive manufacturing can be used synonymously with 3D printing.
One of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise impossible to construct by hand, including hollow parts or parts with internal truss structures to reduce weight. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which uses a continuous filament of a thermoplastic material, is the most common 3D printing process in use as of 2020.
We have several types of Additive Manufacturing in house, ranging in size, material compatibility and finish quality.
FDM / FFF
FDM or sometimes referred to as FFF printers
are the most commonly available and they
come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and prices.
While being the cheapest type of 3D printing
technology in the world. The way this tech-
nology works is like this: A spool of filament
is loaded into the 3D printer and fed through
to a printer nozzle in the extrusion head.
The printer nozzle is heated to the desired
temperature, whereupon a motor pushes the
filament through the heated nozzle, causing it to melt. The printer then moves the extrusion head along with specified coordinates, laying down the molten material onto the build plate where it cools down and solidifies. Once a layer is complete, the printer proceeds to lay down another layer. This process of printing cross-sections is repeated, building layer-upon-layer until the object is fully formed. Depending on the geometry of the object, it is sometimes necessary to add support structures, for example, if a model has steep overhanging parts.
Our maximum build volume for FMD/FFF Manufacturing is 1800mm x 600mm x 660mm | 70.8″x 23.6″x 25.9″.
Types of 3D Printing Technology: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), sometimes called Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).
Materials: Thermoplastic filament (PLA, ABS, PET, PETG, TPU).
Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.5% (lower limit ±0.5 mm).
Common Applications: Electrical housings; Form and fit testings; Jigs and fixtures; Investment casting patterns.
Strengths: Best surface finish; Full color and multi-material available.
Weaknesses: Brittle, not sustainable for mechanical parts; Lowest cost than SLA/DLP for visual purposes.
SLA / DLP
SLA holds the historical distinction of being
the world’s first 3D printing technology.
Stereolithography was invented by Chuck Hull
in 1986, who filed a patent on the technology
and founded the company 3D Systems to
commercialize it. An SLA printer uses mirrors,
known as galvanometers or galvos, with one
positioned on the X-axis and another on the
Y-axis. These galvos rapidly aim a laser beam
across a vat of resin, selectively curing and
solidifying a cross-section of the object inside this building area, building it up layer by layer. Most SLA printers use a solid-state laser to cure parts. The disadvantage of these types of 3D printing technology using a point laser is that it can take longer to trace the cross-section of an object when compared to DLP.
Our maximum build volume for DLP/SLA Manufacturing is 345mm x 194mm x 400mm | 13.5″x 7.6″x 15.7″.
The way this technology works is like this: A spool of filament is loaded into the 3D printer and fed through to a printer nozzle in the extrusion head. The printer nozzle is heated to the desired temperature, whereupon a motor pushes the filament through the heated nozzle, causing it to melt. The printer then moves the extrusion head along with specified coordinates, laying down the molten material onto the build plate where it cools down and solidifies. Once a layer is complete, the printer proceeds to lay down another layer. This process of printing cross-sections is repeated, building layer-upon-layer until the object is fully formed. Depending on the geometry of the object, it is sometimes necessary to add support structures, for example, if a model has steep overhanging features.
Types of 3D Printing Technology: Stereolithography (SLA), Masked Stereolithography (MSLA) Direct Light Processing (DLP)
Materials: Photopolymer resin (Standard, Castable, Transparent, High Temperature)
Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.5% (lower limit ±0.15 mm)
Common Applications: Injection mold-like polymer prototypes; Jewelry (investment casting); Dental applications; Hearing aids
Strengths: Smooth surface finish; fine feature details. Using engineering resin can deliver mechanical and functional parts.
Weaknesses: Using standard resin, parts can be brittle and not suitable for mechanical parts. Higher manufacturing costs.
Creating an object with Powder Bed Fusion
technology and polymer powder is generally
known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
As industrial patents expire, these types of 3D
printing technology are becoming increasingly
common and lower cost. First, a bin of
polymer powder is heated to a temperature just
below the polymer’s melting point. Next, a
recoating blade or wiper deposits a very thin
layer of the powdered material, typically
0.1 mm thick onto a build platform. A CO2
laser beam then begins to scan the surface. The laser will selectively sinter the powder and solidify a cross-section of the object. Just like SLA, the laser is focused on the correct location by a pair of galvos.
When the entire cross-section is scanned, the build platform will move down one-layer thickness in height. The recoating blade deposits a fresh layer of powder on top of the recently scanned layer, and the laser will sinter the next cross-section of the object onto the previously solidified cross-sections.
These steps are repeated until all objects are entirely manufactured. The powder which hasn’t been sintered remains in place to support the object that has, which eliminates the need for support structures.
Our maximum build volume for SLS Printing is 230mm x 230mm x 230mm | 9″x 9″x 9″.
Types of 3D Printing Technology: Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
Materials: Thermoplastic powder (Nylon 6, Nylon 11, Nylon 12).
Dimensional Accuracy: ±0.3% (lower limit ±0.3 mm).
Common Applications: Functional parts; Complex ducting (hollow designs); Low run part production.
Strengths: Functional parts, excellent mechanical properties; Complex geometries.
Weaknesses: Longer lead times; Higher cost compared to FDM/FFF or SLA/DLP. Typically used for functional applications.
How To Proceed with Additive Manufacturing
In order for us to quote you for a single part, a small production run, or a full production run, you will have to send us the 3D file, along with the desired material and printing specifications (if known) as well as the intended use of the part(s). We will then analyze the 3D Model, and come back to you with estimates and recommendations for your project.
Click on the Timed Print Box to get in touch with us. Don't forget to attach the 3D model file(s).