A Beginner’s Guide to Rapid Manufacturing
The 3D printing industry has exploded in recent years and is set to hit mainstream consumer markets soon. 3D printing and rapid manufacturing have changed the face of mass production, providing a more timely and cost-effective solution. So what does 3D printing involve? Let’s take a look into what goes into 3D printing, learn some of the basics and see what’s so revolutionary about it.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing and desktop fabrication, is a prototyping process when an object is constructed layer-by-layer from a computer-aided design (CAD) file. There are many different types of 3D printing machines that utilize other materials and differ in the way build parts.
Laser sintering (LS) is an additive process which fuses a variety of thermoplastic powders. This method of production is used to build functional prototypes, casting patterns, models and end-use products. Laser sintering technology is able to construct highly complex geometries quickly and efficiently. While the structure is being built, the un-sintered powder encases the parts, eliminating the need for support structures. LS technology may make use of several materials, including rigid and flexible plastics, rubber-like elastomer and patterns that require low temperatures and/or low-ash patterns.
The main benefits of laser sintering are its production of detailed, working parts with good surface finishing. Another benefit of LS is its dimensional accuracy with every build and its end-use part applications. Lastly, laser sintering can produce these complex geometries more rapidly than traditional manufacturing processes, especially when considering low to mid-volume manufacturing.
Stereolithography (SL or SLA) works with epoxy-base photopolymer resins and a UV laser to solidify and produce functional parts. Stereolithography is an additive process and, during a build, support structures are needed to anchor the part to the platform. These support structures can easily be removed once the build is complete without any adverse effects to the part.
The great advantage to stereolithography is its ability to quickly construct highly detailed models with outstanding aesthetic quality. Other benefits include, capability of building high resolution products with smooth surface finishing. Layers can build to the accuracy of .002 inch (two thousandths). There are also resin options available that contain various mechanical, optical and thermal properties to suit your part.
Fuse Deposition Modeling
Fuse deposition modeling (FDM) is a 3D printing process which heats thermoplastic filament and ejects the material across controlled tool paths as the machine builds parts layer-by-layer. FDM machines produce production-grade thermoplastic parts. These material include special performance thermoplastics for biocompatibility, static dissipation, and heat and/or chemical resistance. With a bigger platform, this process allows for production of large, accurate and repeatable prototypes and end-use parts.
FDM has the competitive edge in that, through this process, you can build production-grade products or parts from strong thermoplastics. FDM also allows for good dimensional accuracy and feature detail for large parts. In addition, fuse deposition modeling is excellent for repeatable build processes.
Here are a few of the most common 3D printing processes, there are more machines and production methods that employ various materials, such as metal and other types of plastics. As 3D printing continues to grow the list of machines and production methods will grow as well. Check back next week for more guidelines and information on 3D printing.
Have a design to 3D print? Contact Harvest Technologies for a free consultation.