Updated: Apr 5, 2022
SLS 3D printing uses high-powered lasers to fuse powdered plastic material together into 3D shapes. It can create parts that are finely detailed, strong, durable, heat resistant, and flexible (when needed) all at once.
Fuse 1 and Fuse Sift - High Performance Selective Laser Sintering, Finally Within Reach
Printer manufacturers often boast that SLS prints rival injection molding products in terms of strength and precision. When compared to injection molding, 3D printing can create parts that have internal channels, lattice structures, and other features not possible with molding.
SLS also offers a high degree of predictability in material and mechanical properties, so it’s popular in aerospace, medical, and regulated industries. Furthermore, SLS printing is mostly support-free, which expands your ability to design and produce very complex geometries.
The technology is popular for functional prototypes, design evaluation models, small manufacturing runs, end-use consumer products, and product testing, among other uses. Industries that have taken a particular shine to SLS include:
· Automotive (jigs & fixtures, prototype cars)
· Aerospace (prototypes, tools, air ducts)
· Medical and healthcare (prosthetics)
· Consumer electronics (housings, prototypes)
· Military (replacement parts, grips)
· Heavy Industry (sand casting patterns, tooling)
SLS 3D printing is more widely used today, but it’s not a perfect technology. Despite its advances, SLS printing is still relatively expensive and powder handling can be messy when done by hand (although some vendors offer enclosed solutions).
Add-on depowdering units – like the Formlabs Fuse Sift – cut down on the mess, but they will naturally bring up the total cost of your SLS investment. Higher-end and industrial-level machines can offer depowdering solutions as default, but again, they will also require the buyer to dig deeper.
On the plus side of things, much of the loose powder can be recycled, which lowers material costs and makes SLS a more sustainable technology than injection molding or machining. And, compared to the tools needed to create single or short-run of custom parts and prototypes by injection molding, SLS 3D printing usually comes out as the more affordable solution.
All in all, SLS 3D printing is a powerful technology for the right applications. Whether it suits your purposes depends entirely on the design of your parts, the material requirements, and the application itself.
By Ile Kauppila - all3dprint.com