When it comes to 3D printing, SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) has been around since the 80s. Along with other similar processes such as stereolithography and fused deposition modeling, SLS has also been widely used for prototyping and small-scale manufacturing. Since the patents of the technology have expired, many tech-savvy businesses, such as Anubis 3D, are looking to cash in on the opportunity. If you’re wondering what SLS 3D printing is all about, then you have come to the right place. Read on to find out more about Selective Laser Sintering.
History of SLS
Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is the process that transforms digital designs into three-dimensional objects. Thanks to the advancements in technology, 3D printing is now considered to be one of the most cost-effective ways of creating affordable prototypes along with finished products as well. Furthermore, 3D printing has also become a popular pastime for inventors and hobbyists because of its easy availability and affordability.
One of the technologies that’s used by the 3D printers of today is known as Selective Laser Sintering or SLS. The process was first developed and patented in the 80s by Carl Deckard who was a student at the University of Texas and Joe Beaman who was his mechanical engineering professor at the time. Both Deckard and Beaman founded a 3D printing company known as Desk Top Manufacturing in 1989, and in 2001, it was reportedly sold to 3D Systems for $45 million.
How SLS Works?
During the Selective Laser Sintering process, tiny particles of either glass, plastic or ceramic are fused together with heat from a high-powered laser, which cools down to form a solid, three-dimensional object. Similar to other processes of 3D printing, the objects that are printed using the SLS process starts with a simple computer-aided design file also known as a CAD file.
The SLS process then uses powdered material such as glass, ceramic or polymers that are fused together by using heat from a high-power laser, and a thermal source to fuse the particles together at a specific location to build the three-dimensional shape. A recoating blade is used to apply the powder on the build platform as the object takes shape. This is one of the reasons why the part is encased in powder for the printing process.
The process starts off with a high-power CO2 laser beam which is used to scan the area where it has to sinter. The laser than sinters the powder while solidifying the part just below the melting point of the powder. This process continues throughout the layer of the section until the entire layer has been completed.
After the first part of the process has been completed, the recoating blade deposits a second layer of the powdered particles before the laser scans the surface for a second time. The size of the layer at this time for all SLS 3D printers is around 0.1mm. To complete the construction of the three-dimensional structure, the platform then moves downwards one layer height at a time as the specific area of the object is being completed. This process is carried out layer by layer until the entire three-dimensional object has been constructed.
Post Processing of SLS
One of the key differences that set the process of Selective Laser Sintering apart from other 3D printing processes is that the SLS 3D printing process does not require any support. This is mainly because the part of the object is completely encapsulated in the powdered particles and as a result, does not need any support in order to remain stable. This gives Selective Laser Sintering a definitive edge over other 3D printing technologies, such as Stereolithography and Fused Deposition Modelling.
Some important factors to keep in mind when using the SLS 3D printing process is that on average, the object that has been created using the SLS process needs to be left to cool down for a while before it can be removed from the platform.
The post-processing of SLS is often where the object being created is most vulnerable. This is the main reason why people who are looking to prototype an object or use SLS 3D printing modeling for small-scale manufacturing often seek out the expertise of an SLS 3D printing service who can make sure that the three-dimensional object is created correctly.
One of the reasons for using the expertise of a professional SLS 3D printing service is that there’s a good chance of warping and shrinkage which can occur and ruin the object being created. This is especially the case when it comes to creating long and flat objects through the SLS 3D printing process.
Advantages of Using SLS 3D Printing
Selective Laser Sintering is used by startups and manufacturing companies involved in providing products as a service. Keeping that in mind, SLS 3D printing is mainly used for prototyping a new product along with small-scale production if the process proves to be more cost-effective as compared to traditional production processes.
One of the main reasons why SLS 3D printing is the preferred choice when it comes to building some components or objects is the high amount of freedom it offers the users when it comes to the design of the object. Apart from that, SLS 3D printing is also the preferred choice for many businesses because it is highly accurate when it comes to producing parts as compared to traditional manufacturing processes. Since the process does not require any sort of support, it can end up saving both printing and post-processing time when designing an object for prototyping or small-scale production.
Furthermore, the process of Selective Laser Sintering allows users to produce parts that are sturdy and consistent in their mechanical properties, unlike other processes such as SLA or FDM. This means that the capabilities of the SLS technology can be used in its full potential by the user provided they have a good CAD file and knowledge of using the SLS 3D printing technology.
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