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FDM vs SLS 3D Printing

3D printing is an awesome technology that is changing theworld in which we live in. This is a form of manufacturing that blows awayother types in quite a few aspects; it is just significant! I want to compareand contrast two different styles of 3D printing. I’m going to cover SelectiveLaser Sintering (SLS) methods, as well as Fused Deposition Manufacturing (FDM).Before I do that, let me cover a “universal” process that all 3D printingprocesses hold to, as well as the general underlying message in all 3D printingmethods. Before anything can be manufactured through 3D printing, ithas to be designed! This means there needs to be an engineer or a 3D designerworking on the computer with 3D software developing a blueprint for the machineto use. All forms of 3D printing involve a CAM system, or acomputer-aided-manufacturing system. This means that whether it be a jet,laser, or nozzle, all methods of this technology involve a computer telling thematerial dispenser where to go. This is definitely not done by hand on the fly!When it comes down to any form of additive manufacturing, there is anunderlying process that applies to virtually all styles of manufacturing. Aproduct will be manufactured one layer at a time. The material will be fusedsomehow at each individual layer, not matter how small. These layers could bejust a few microns, or it could be a couple millimeters. (a human hair has adiameter of 20 microns) Regardless, 3D printing involves the layer by layerassembly of materials by a computer aided manufacturing method. Let’s compare both. Fused Deposition Manufacturing (FDM) is a form of 3Dprinting that is a little bit simpler than other methods. It typically dealswith thermoplastics for the most part, as the process involves a very basicmelting process. Essentially, a nozzle will be hooked up to a spool of materialin string form. This material could consist of polymers, ABS plastic, orwhatever. The nozzle itself will be very hot, and as the material is pushedthrough the nozzle, it will be melted on top of the product. The material willbe quick to solidify, but layers of melted materials will be stacked on top ofeach other to yield a final product. Think of a hot glue gun laying down layersof glue which quickly solidify, and stacking each layer of glue into a finalproduct. The pros of this method are the simplicity. The machines capable ofdoing this are very simple compared to other printers, and are very inexpensivecompared to others. Printers could go for $50,000 to $500,000 pretty easily.Some FDM printers go for less than $1,000. They are cheap! The downside, isthat they can only make very small parts. On top of that, the parts are verylow resolution. Finally, the process takes much more time than other methods.Finally, FDM methods require support materials when building. It turns into a“you get your money’s worth” kind of situations. Selective Laser Sintering is a great method of manufacturingthat really stands out. As you know from earlier, 3D printing involves the layerby layer stacking of material until a final product is produced. With SLS, eachlayer involves a layer of material being spread over the entire build envelope,or section where products can be assembled layer-by-layer. At each individuallayer, a laser will melt the powder material together into a solid, and thenanother layer of powder material will be laid down – just to be laser meltedagain. A laser will melt material together per each layer, until a finalproduct is yielded. The pros of this method would be that virtually anythingcan be made, as support material isn’t needed. This printer is much quickerthan FDM. The parts are usually very high resolution, and high quality. Thistype of 3D printing is quite a bit more expensive on the downside. 

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