Here at London 3D Printing one of our specialities is sls printing – Selective Laser Sintering. This requires the use of very high-end machinery and skilled operators, but we use it because it produces the very finest results for our customers.
An sls printer uses a nylon powder rather than the ABS thermoplastics that many 3D printers use, and this is a very strong and versatile material that can provide very exact and fine details compared with other 3D printing methods. The printer produces a fine layer of powdered nylon which it sets by using a laser. Then it produces a second layer and repeats the process – and so on. Because the laser fuses each layer to the next, it results in a much smoother finish than other 3D types of printing which means that there is much less architecture and it will not need nearly so much cleaning up. That in turn saves on labour and reduces costing.
Sls printing is also capable of producing very complex shapes and details (see some examples in our gallery) because it is able to print without any need for additional supports. We can print any object up to 350 mmm x 300 mm x 450 mm and can normally turn around your order within 2 – 4 working days. Every 3D printed volume is air-cleaned or with larger objects sand-cleaned.
The many benefits of 3D printing are obvious for a great variety of different industries, such as car making, for instance. Advances in the procedures mean that auto manufacturers are increasingly using 3D printing for production for a number of reasons. Not the least of these is that 3D printing can be used to create complex designs that would simply not be possible using traditional manufacturing methods.
One of the most important considerations for automotive OEMs is the reduction of weight, because less weight usually results in lower fuel consumption. That is better for the environment and better for the manufacturer, because lower fuel consumption means greater sales.
Another big benefit is that auto manufacturers are heading more and more in the way of customisation for their customers. For instance, Porsche has started to produce new seats for sports cars that have polyurethane 3D-printed central seat and backrest cushion sections. These can be customised to three levels of firmness which are firm, medium, or soft.
Porsche has started to 3D print prototype seating for use on race cars this year and is waiting for customer feedback, since it plans to be offering the choices to all customers by the middle of 2021. Looking further ahead, the company plans to customise seats to a customer’s specific body contour.
Many of the parts used in cars need materials that are not only tough, but also chemical and heat resistant. When you use 3D printing with nylon polymers or ABS plastics, and even metals, they can produce the most functional components. Another possibility in the pipeline is 3D printing with carbon fibre composites which will lead to even greater weight-savings.
Yet another use for 3D printing in the automotive industry is prototyping, which enables testing and performance validation before making an investment into expensive and labour-intensive moulds for producing the final parts. The low production costs mean that design engineers can check how well a part functions and fits beforehand.
Take Volkswagen for instance. Back in 2014, the company started to use 3D printing for tooling, and it was so successful that it has now changed over most of its’ tooling production to 3D. That has cut lead times from weeks to a few days and has resulted in the reduction of tool production costs by 90%, which is no mean achievement. To take one example, a tool like a liftgate badge would reportedly take 35 days to develop using traditional manufacturing and cost up to €400. With 3D printing, the same tool can be produced in four days at a cost of just €10.
Of course, 3D sls printing is not just used in the automotive industry but is expanding rapidly into many other areas. Here at London 3D Printing we can produce parts with a very short lead time, very complicated designs, and for far less than you could produce them any other way.