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Technologies, Processes, & Materials Descriptions

Here you’ll find some useful collections of data specific to each process/service offered by Adaptive Designs.  From 3D printing to Scanning we continually update our libraries to keep the end user up to date on our processes and services. 

WHAT IS SELECTIVE LASER SINTERING (SLS)

SLS technology uses a laser to harden and bond small grains of plastic, ceramic, glass, metal (we talk in a different article about direct metal sintering), or other materials into layers in a 3D dimensional structure. The laser traces the pattern of each cross section of the 3D design onto a bed of powder. After one layer is built, the bed lowers and another layer is built on top of the existing layers. The bed then continues to lower until every layer is built and the part is complete.

One of the major benefits of SLS is that it doesn’t require the support structures that many other AM technologies use to prevent the design from collapsing during production. Since the product lies in a bed of powder, no supports are necessary. This characteristic alone, while also conserving materials, means that SLS is capable of producing geometries that no other technology can. In addition, we don’t have to worry about damaging the part while removing supports and we can build complex interior components and complete parts. As a result, we can save time on assembly. As with other AM technologies, there’s no need to account for the problem of tool clearance—and thus the need for joints—that subtractive methods often encounter. So we can make previously impossible geometries, cut down on assembly time and alleviate weak joints.

SLS really shines when you need plastic parts that will last. SLS is capable of producing highly durable parts for real-world testing and mold making, while other additive manufacturing methods may become brittle over time. Because SLS parts are so robust, they rival those produced in traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding and are already used in a variety of end-use applications, like automotive and aerospace.

Considering its robustness and capability to produce complex whole parts, SLS can bring major time and cost benefits for small-run parts that would usually require some assembly with traditional manufacturing. It’s a perfect marriage of functionality, strength and complexity. We can produce parts faster and cut down on the time required to put them together. But we can also produce fewer parts, as SLS parts tend to stand up better to wear and environmental conditions. Especially for mass customization for certain low-volume end-use parts, SLS blows traditional manufacturing out of the water because there is no expensive and inefficient retooling to worry about. One of the other big things with SLS, as we’ll see with many other additive manufacturing technologies, is it allows us to store and reproduce parts and molds, using data that will never corrode, get lost in transportation or require expensive storage. The designs are always available and ready to be produced when we need them, even if the original is unavailable.

One way we can think about the uses for SLS parts is in terms of the materials it uses. Styrene-based materials are great for making castings—in plaster, titanium, aluminum and more—and are compatible with most standard foundry processes. SLS also can create impact-resistant engineering plastic that’s great for low- to mid-volume end-use parts, like enclosures, snap-fit parts, automotive moldings and thin-walled ducting. Engineering plastic can also be made with flame retardant material, to fit aircraft and consumer product requirements, or gas-filled material for greater stiffness and heat resistance. There’s even fiber reinforced plastic for ultimate stiffness, and, on the other end of the spectrum, rubber-like material for flexible parts, like hoses, gaskets, grip padding and more 

WHAT IS STEREOLITHOGRAPHY (SLA)

SLA Printers build accurate parts directly from 3D CAD data without tooling by converting liquid materials and composites into solid cross-sections, layer by layer, using an ultraviolet laser. The bed then lowers, the part is coated with a new layer of resin, and the next layer is built on top of the others until the part is finished. When a part is complete, it is cleaned in a solvent solution to remove wet resin remaining on the part surface. Afterward, the part is put in a UV oven to complete the curing process. SLA Printers offer high throughput, unmatched part resolution and accuracy, and a wide range of print materials. No process addresses a wider range of applications, including the most demanding rapid manufacturing applications.

When Charles ‘Chuck’ Hull, the founder of 3D Systems, invented Stereolithography, SLA, in 1986, he launched a revolution in product development across every marketplace from transportation, recreation and healthcare to consumer goods and education.

SLA is all about precision and accuracy, so it is often used where form, fit and assembly are critical. The tolerances on an SLA part are typically less than .05mm, and it offers the smoothest surface finish of any additive manufacturing process. Considering the level of quality SLA can achieve, it’s particularly useful for creating highly precise casting patterns (e.g., for injection molding, casting and vacuum casting) as well as functional prototypes, presentation models, and for performing form and fit testing. SLA technology is extremely versatile and it can be used in any number of areas that require precision above all else.

Keep in mind that, unlike with SLS, SLA parts do utilize support structures, and they require a bit more post-processing. But the post-processing options are also some of SLAs greatest advantages. Models can be vapor honed, or bead or sand blasted. SLA parts can even be electroplated with metal, such as nickel. Electroplating not only makes the part significantly stronger, but it also makes the part electrically conductive and more dimensionally stable in moist environments.

In terms of benefits, SLA allows us to save time on highly precise parts, especially when you require a number of functional prototypes or a quick single casting pattern. SLA brings us painstaking accuracy without the painstaking time. Because of SLA’s speed and precision, prototypes are easy to make and faithful to the final design, which means we can identify design flaws, collisions and potential mass-manufacturing hurdles before production begins. For low to mid-volume parts normally machined from polypropylene or ABS, SLA provides comparable characteristics and doesn’t require slow, expensive retooling for customization or in the event a tooling change is required. In addition, SLA allows for lower material costs, as the unused resin stays in the vat for future projects. SLA materials are wide ranging in mechanical properties and offer wide application opportunities for parts requiring ABS or polypropylene-like characteristics such as snap-fit assemblies, automotive styling components and master patterns.

SLA materials are available for higher-temperature applications and clear materials are available with polycarbonate-like properties. Biocompatible materials are available for a wide range of medical applications such as surgical tools, dental appliances and hearing aids. Other materials are specifically formulated for patterns, offering low ash creation and high accuracy while also being expendable.

WHAT IS MULTIJET PRINTING (MJP)

MJP or MultiJet Printing is an inkjet printing process that uses piezo printhead technology to deposit either photocurable plastic resin or casting wax materials layer by layer. MJP is used to build parts, patterns and molds with fine feature detail to address a wide range of applications. These high-resolution printers are economical to own and operate and use a separate, meltable or dissolvable support material to make post-processing a breeze. Another big benefit is that removing support material is virtually a hands-free operation and allows even the most delicate features and complex internal cavities to be thoroughly cleaned without damage.

MJP printers offer the highest Z-direction resolution with layer thicknesses as low as 16 microns. In addition, selectable print modes allow the user to choose the best combination of resolution and print speed, so it’s easy to find a combination that meets your needs. Parts have smooth finish and can achieve accuracies rivaling SLA for many applications. Recent material advances have improved the durability of plastic materials and are now suitable for some end-use applications.

MJP prints are ideal for direct investment casting applications in jewelry, dental, medical and aerospace applications where digital workflows provide significant time, labor, quality and cost advantages. MJP wax prints also offer a digital drop-in alternative to traditional lost-wax casting processes, eliminating time consuming and costly process steps while utilizing traditional casting methods and materials. All in all, the MJP printer can print virtually any geometry and provide scalable high-volume throughput.

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