What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing is an additive manufacturing process used for rapid prototyping, producing custom built parts, and low volume production runs. As the best option for a quick lead time at an affordable price or when the part geometry does not allow the use of traditional manufacturing methods and technologies, 3D Printing is a diversely adaptive manufacturing process. Rapid prototypes, mechanical parts, tools, cosplay costumes, game pieces, and jewelry can all be built using various 3D Printing methods.
Choosing the Right 3D Printing Material
PLA, or Polylactic Acid, is the most commonly used 3D Printing plastic due to its low cost and accurate detail. This biodegradable plastic derived from corn starch is also one of the most environmentally friendly 3D Printing materials. Although PLA can show more detail than ABS, it is more brittle and is best for non-functional parts. PLA is not suitable for environments with temperatures higher than 80 ºC.
Common Applications: cosplay props, models, desktop toys, & detail oriented parts.
PETG is a durable material combing the useful characteristics of ABS with the ease of printing similar to PLA. With a high impact strength and an excellent resistance to chemicals and water, PETG can be used for a variety of functional applications. Since PETG can be sterilized, it is usually considered to be food safe.
Common Applications: waterproof parts, water bottles, plant pots, vases, & snap-fit components.
Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, commonly known as ABS, is a popular 3D Printing plastic that is cost-effective and tough. Compared to PLA, it has better heat resistance and is a better choice for outdoor applications. ABS 3D prints can be smoothed using a post processing technique called Acetone Vapor Smoothing.
Common Applications: toy action figures, automotive accessories, cases, & project enclosures.
TPU, or Thermoplastic Polyurethane, is commonly referred to as the bridge between rubbers and plastics. Its elasticity allows it to be extremely flexible, while still providing durability that makes it resistant to oil, grease, and abrasion. TPU will also retain its elastic properties in cooler temperatures, making the material useful over a range of temperature conditions.
Common Applications: seals, automotive parts, & sporting goods.
Resin is a thermoset polymer that produces high-detail parts with a smooth surface finish. It is commonly used in 3D Printing to produce detailed prints for plastic models and visual prototypes. As a more fragile or brittle material, resin is not ideally suited for functional parts. Many different types of resins exist with certain mechanical and physical properties for specific applications.
Common Applications: custom dental devices, jewelry molds, model figurines, & product prototypes.
Nylon is a popular 3D Printing material because of its durability and toughness. As a semi-flexible plastic with excellent mechanical properties, it has a high chemical and abrasion resistance which makes it ideal for functional parts. SLS, MFJ, and FDM 3D Printing processes can all produce parts with different types of Nylon.
Common Applications: plastic gears, living hinges, cases, cable ties, & functional prototypes.
Stainless steel is a metal alloy with high ductility, along with wear and corrosion resistance that can be easily welded, polished, and machined. Like aluminum, stainless steel can be used to 3D print complex designs that are sometimes impossible to accomplish with traditional manufacturing methods and techniques.
Common Applications: tools, end use parts, jewelry, & decorative models.
Aluminum is a non-ferrous metal with an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, high electrical and thermal conductivity, and natural weather resistance. Aluminum is often used for fully functional parts, as one of the main advantages is that it does not rust. Finished production parts may be machined to tolerance after being 3D printed.
Common applications: automotive, aerospace, tools, & complex geometry brackets.
Choosing The Right 3D Printing Method
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling)
FDM is commonly used for low-cost rapid prototyping due to its high availability and quick lead times. 3D plastic parts are formed in layers by extruding a thermoplastic polymer filament through a computer-controlled printing head with a nozzle. Compared to other 3D Printing technologies, FDM offers some of the largest build envelopes which allow for the printing of larger volume parts.
Strengths: Low-cost & wide range of materials.
Weaknesses: Limited dimensional precision & visible layer lines.
Related Materials: PLA, ABS, PETG, TPU, & Nylon.
SLA / DLP / LCD (Stereolithography / Direct Light Processing / Liquid Crystal Display)
SLA, DLP, and LCD are similar processes ideal for visual applications with a high level of detail. All processes use an UV light source to solidify liquid resin in a vat layer-by-layer. SLA uses a single-point laser to solidify the resin, while DLP and LCD uses a digital light projector to flash a single image of each layer all-at-once.
Strengths: Fine detail & smooth finish.
Weaknesses: Brittle and longer post processing times.
Related Materials: Dental Resin, Castable Resin, & Tough Resin.
SLS / MJF (Selective Laser Sintering / Multi Jet Fusion)
SLS and MFJ turn particles of powdered material on a build platform, mainly nylon or thermoplastic polyurethane, into solid parts. These process are popular in the aerospace and medical device industries due their ability to produce low quantities, quickly, at mass production accuracy levels.
Strengths: Self supporting build process, functional parts & prototypes, & excellent mechanical properties.
Weaknesses: Higher cost compared to FDM, grainy surface, & porous finish.
Related Materials: Nylon, Glass-filled Nylon, & TPU.
MJP / Polyjet (MultiJet Printing)
MJP and Polyjet 3D Printing turn particles of liquid photopolymer materials on a build platform into solid parts. The process uses a UV light to cure a thin layer of photopolymer material that is deposited from the print head. With unparalleled accuracy, MJP and Polyjet 3D processes are used to build end use parts with lots of detail.
Strengths: Self supporting build process for complex parts & smooth high resolution end use parts.
Weaknesses: Higher cost compared to SLA.
Related Materials: VisiJet M3-X, VisiJet M3 Procast, Agilus30, & High Temperature.
DMLS / SLM (Direct Metal Laser Sintering / Selective Laser Melting)
DMLS and SLM are ideal for producing high performance, end-use metal 3D Printed parts for automotive, aerospace, and engineering industries. It has the ability to produce metal parts with complex geometries that cannot be provided with traditional manufacturing methods.
Strengths: Excellent mechanical properties & produce complex geometries.
Weaknesses: High cost, specialized CAD knowledge required, & limited build capacity.
Related Materials: Aluminum, Stainless Steel, & Inconel.
How It Works
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