Identify the Best 3D-Printing Process for Your Application

Understanding the capabilities, limitations, and idiosyncrasies of the different additive manufacturing technologies can be a challenge, even for industry experts. Boiling down 3D-printing processes into simple questions can facilitate applications-based decision-making. Ron Clemons, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, helps you determine the technologies and materials that are right for your application in Machine Design.

Commonly used 3D printing processes today:

Photocuring employs liquid photopolymer resins that are solidified and cured with ultraviolet (UV) light, mostly to serve as models, light-duty prototypes, and patterns for secondary casting. The two most widely used photocuring technologies are PolyJet and SL

Filament Deposition – Guided by software-generated toolpaths, the filament-deposition processes build 3D objects by drawing cross-sectional slices of parts one upon another via a heated extruder head. One chief advantage of filament deposition is the ability to produce strong and durable functional prototypes and end-use parts in a variety of high-performance materials commonly used in conventional machining and molding manufacturing processes. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) is the most mature and widely adopted filament deposition process.

Polymer Laser Sintering – These practical processes fuse or melt powdered polymers and composites with a low wattage CO2 laser that sinters cross-sections of 3D objects layer upon layer. Polymer laser-sintering (LS) materials primarily have bases of Nylon 12 and Nylon 11, with a variety of filler options such as glass beads, mineral fiber, and carbon fiber, which provide substantial strength and durability for functional prototyping and end-use part production.

Direct Metal Laser Sintering – Using an yttrium aluminum garnet fiber laser, commonly referred to as a YAG-fiber laser, metal laser-sintering systems essentially micro-weld powdered metals and alloys layer upon layer to produce fully dense 3D objects with properties similar to castings.

There isn’t a single technology well-suited for every application, and there isn’t always a clear-cut solution for a customer’s specific needs. Here are 7 considerations to help you qualify and disqualify processes and materials for each of your unique projects:

  1. Application: What is the purpose of the object?
  2. Functionality: What does the part need to do?
  3. Stability: In what environment does the part need to function?
  4. Durability: How long does the part need to last?
  5. Aesthetics: How does it need to look and feel?
  6. Economics: What is your budget, timeline, and quality expectation?
  7. Priorities: Of all these factors, which is the most important?

>Read more about the specific technologies, material properties, advantages and disadvantages, and selection from Machine Design, April 26, 2016