What is SLS 3D Printing and What Can It Do?

22 Aug 2020
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What is SLS 3D Printing and What Can It Do?

selective laser sintering

3D printing is becoming more widely used (and understood) everyday, but there are still many aspects to it that most people don’t fully understand. One of these is SLS 3D printing and what it entails.

Ultimately, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing technology, can help to rapidly produce various parts and pieces in several industries, but there are distinct technologies used within this umbrella term. One of these technologies is SLS 3D printing and we at London 3D Printing are going to briefly explore how it works and why it’s different to other 3D printing methods and technologies.

What is SLS 3D Printing?

SLS 3D printing stands for Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). This method uses a high power laser to fuse powdered materials one layer at a time. The method has been adapted to work with a range of materials, including plastics, metals, glass, ceramics, and various composite material powders.

Compared to other additive manufacturing processes like stereolithography (SLA) and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) doesn’t require support structures as the powder acts as a self supporting material. The biggest benefit of this is that it allows you to produce more intricate and complex structures.

How Does Selective Laser Sintering work?

While there are many complexities to the technology, the basic process of SLS printing are as follows:

  1. Powder is dispersed in thin layers within some kind of build chamber
  2. A laser is used to scan cross-sections of a predefined 3D model, heating the powder and fusing the particles with a specific material to create a solid part
  3. During the process, unfused powder will form the support structure reducing the need for additional materials
  4. New layers of powder are added on top, with subsequent cross sections scanned and created within the build chamber
  5. The general process is repeated until all cross sections are completed and a finished part is formed
  6. After cooling, the part is ready for extraction and can be removed from the build chamber
  7. Following a cleaning process and the removal of any excess powder, the part can then be used

Generally, all SLS production will follow the basic steps above. However, you may find variation in the type and size of the laser used for fusing the powder and material. You might also find technology differing depending on the size of the build chamber as well as the required powders, temperature settings and layering process used.

What can SLS Make?

One of the most common materials used for SLS printing is nylon, which is a popular engineered thermoplastic that is naturally strong, lightweight and flexible. However, SLS machines can print objects in a variety of materials including glass, ceramics and even metal. Metal printing is usually called direct metal laser sintering but follows the same basic process.

Due to the process’s accuracy, it can be used in the production of both prototypes as well as products for end use. We’ve seen SLS used in a variety of industries such as aviation and aerospace and is particularly useful in situations where extremely high quality parts are needed in small quantities.

Sometimes, it can be more expensive to produce physical molds for the traditional manufacturing of parts and it is more convenient and cost effective to store SLS design files digitally so that parts can simply be produced as and when they are needed. This cuts down on the need for complex machinery to be purchased and storage of large quantities of parts.

SLS printing is popular for parts that require customization before it’s ready for the end user. For instance, hearing aids, prosthetics and other medical devices often need to be adjusted for the specific needs of the individual as stock components might not be as effective at serving the intended purpose. Due to the inherent characteristics of SLS printing, these complex parts can be customized for each user.

Final Thoughts

SLS 3D printing doesn’t require the same infrastructure as traditional manufacturing. And if you’ve previously relied on importing parts from abroad, it also reduces your reliance on global supply chains.

However, this will ultimately require you to find a local SLS 3D printing service or invest in the equipment yourself. If you want to learn more about our services at London 3D Printing, simply get in touch with one of our professionals and let us know what you need to produce.

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