3D printing is on course to change manufacturing forever, among other sectors like healthcare, defense, education and construction to name a few. Better detail, more efficient use of materials resulting in less waste, effortless modelling are just some of the advantages that make 3D printing a fitting alternative to current manufacturing practices.
Adoption of 3D printing on a wide scale across the industrial and domestic spectrum however, has been fueled largely by three major technologies. Fused deposition modelling, Stereolithography and Selective Laser Sintering, respectively, are the most widely used 3D printing technologies today.
Fused Deposition Modelling OR FDM as it’s also known, is a process where parts are built by extruding heated filament on the build tray. This done layer by layer until the model acquires the desired shape, following which the layers are fused together. FDM’s biggest advantage is the wide variety of filament or 3D printing materials it supports. A wide range of plastics, metals and composites can be used to print objects using FDM, making it the most widely adopted 3D printing technology today.
Stereolithography was one of the first 3D printing technologies to be used. Invented in the 1980s, Stereolithograhy (SLA) produces parts with high resolution, smooth surface finish and accuracy. SLA uses a technique known as ‘photo-polymerization’ to print 3D models. The process uses lasers to cure liquid resin into hardened plastics. Due to the high resolution output provided by this method, it is frequently used for industrial applications in manufacturing, jewelry and healthcare industries.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), is a 3D printing technology frequently used in addictive manufacturing. SLS uses lasers to fuse together small particles of polymer powder using high powered lasers. SLS is uniquely suited to 3D printing ‘strong’ parts or models that have a complex geometry. SLS parts however have a rough surface finish. Moreover, the limited number of materials available for printing using SLS present a big barrier to wider adoption of this technology.
In conclusion, the type of 3D printing technology to be used, depends on the industry and type of 3d models that need to be printed. With new innovations being devised in the construction and healthcare industry, novel 3D printing technologies are on the horizon. It is predicted that doctors will soon be able to 3D print organs suited to patient and procedural requirements. Experiments in 3D printing houses and structures are already being conducted, paving the way to a less labor intensive future.