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3D Printing Technologies | Types of 3D Printing

3D Printing Technologies | Types of 3D Printing

Jul 9, 2017

All 3D printing technologies create three-dimensional physical objects layer by layer from digital designs from many sorts of materials like plastic, metal, resin, concrete and Human Tissue. Additive manufacturing (AM) is the very appropriate name for describing 3D printing technologies.

3D Printing or AM describes a wide array of different technologies which have similar principle function at the core but do it in a different way with different materials. Following are the most common technologies that fall under the umbrella of 3D Printing. 

1 – FDM | Fused Deposition Modeling
2 – SLA & DLP | VAT Photopolymerization
3 – Material Jetting | Poly/MultiJet Modeling
4 – SLS | Selective Laser Sintering
5 – Binder Jetting
6 – SLM & EBM | Metal Printing

All of the images of the process of the 3D Printing technologies are taken from www.3dhubs.com


FDM | Fused Deposition Modeling

Fused deposition modeling is the most ubiquitous 3D printing technology. It is the most famous and the common 3D printing method around the world due to its simplicity and easier approach. The process starts with a string of solid material called the filament which is guided to a heated nozzle inside of the 3D printer that melts the material. Once in a melted state, the material can be extruded on a specific and predetermined path created by the software on the computer. As the material is extruded as a layer of the object on this path, it instantly cools down and solidifies – providing the foundation for the next layer of material until the entire object is manufactured.

Material Options: Materials used are thermoplastics which come in various different properties dependent on the need. Some of them are PLA, ABS, ABSi, polyphenylsulfone (PPSF), polycarbonate (PC), PETG and Ultem 9085, among others. Due to the large interest in this technology, there is much competition and its material is comparatively very cheap. Some FDM 3d printers have the ability to print in more than one materials. 

Applications: FDM is a great choice for quick and low-cost applications. It is definitely not the industrial purpose and is a great one to have it at your home for personal DIY Projects. More recent innovations in FDM 3D printing include the ability to manufacture functional end products with embedded electronics and mechanical parts such as drones and robots. Due to some design and material limitations, FDM 3D printing is not recommended for more intricate designs.

Pros: FDM is the simplest and quickest possible way of 3D Printing prototyping. Relatively they have no any geometry limitations. There is a great auto support system on this technology which makes the most impossible designs. Due to its simplest design and method, it makes it very affordable 3D Printing technology.  

Cons: However, curved surfaces have visible steps in the finish. Also, if your parts are very large, you may need to break them down into several parts to fit them onto the build tray. This means final parts would have visible breaks where parts are solvent bonded together.

Key Industry Players: It is an open-source technology, consequently, there is so much research and development going on in past couple of years. This makes this technology on high demand and that makes a lot of companies producing printers. The most key players are Makerbot, Ultimaker, Zortrax, Prusa Printers, Printbot, Lulzbot, Composite CFF, Markforged


SLA & DLP | VAT Photopolymerization

SLA – Stereolithography Apparatus & DLP – Digital Light Processing both produce 3D objects by using a liquid(photopolymer) that solidifies when exposed to UV light using laser technology.  The word “stereolithography” comes from the Greek words “stereo,” meaning solid, and “(photo)lithography,” which is a form of writing with light. Stereolithography does just that: drawing solids with light. The process begins with a vat(a large tank) of resin. A laser beam, directed into the pool of resin, traces the cross-section pattern of the model for that particular layer and cures it. During the build cycle, the platform on which the build is repositioned, lowering by a single layer thickness. When object finishes the vat is drained leaving the 3D printed object. 

Material Options & Applications: PhotoPolymer liquid/resin. Due to the sophistication and high quality. This technology is widely used in Jewellery, Dentistry and medical applications.

Pros & Pros: First of all you can only use a single type of material. These UV curing polymers are sometimes a little bit hard to work with and are toxic so we have to be cautious around them. These 3d printers are quite expensive and resin being controlled therefore also expensive side. Super high-detailed models with High Accuracy. The prototype model is lightweight and durable, with the strength of polystyrene plastic.

Key Industry Players: 3D Systems, Formlabs & DWS systems


Material Jetting | Poly/MultiJet Modeling

The most precise 3D Printing technology for realistic prototypes. This 3D printing technology is quite similar to the 2D printers. Just like on inkjet printer squirts out material that is liquid and then dried on a paper, similarly, in Material Jetting a liquid resin is squirted out of the head and then cured with UV light simultaneously back to back so that the layer is solidified and ready for printing another layer on top of it. After each layer is finished, the platform will drop down allowing the head to pass through the layer number two and every subsequent layer after that.

Material & Applications: Material choices consist of liquid photopolymers that can provide the final objects various properties including toughness, transparency or rubber-like flexibility. The most advanced systems can even use multiple jets that allow for the combination of different material properties and colors. Some of the common materials used are: Rigid Opaque Plastic, Transparent Plastic, Rubber-Like Plastic, Simulated Polypropylene, Heat Resistant, Simulated ABS. This technology is used in industrial level 3D Printers. This technology covers almost all industries.

Pros: These are the most precise 3D printing technologies today, printing with up to 16-micron (that’s thinner than a human hair) layers. Output objects are very smooth, do not require much of hand finishing and can make parts with high resolution and a perfect detail. 

Cons: So far it is the best 3D printing technology commercially available. The only disadvantage is that it is quite expensive. Moreover, it also needs a support system and for that, you need to use multi-jet to use the water soluble support. Where in SLS we don’t.

Key  Industry Players: Stratasys & 3D Systems


SLS | Selective Laser Sintering

When it is about complex design SLS is the one. This technology uses high power laser to fuse and solidify layers powdered material. SLS Printers have two beds that are called pistons. One of them carries the powder material and the other is the platform for the build where the laser is directed and fuses the powder. During the build cycle, the platform on which the build is repositioned, lowering by a single layer thickness. After each layer is made, the leveling roller adds another powder layer over the top of the processed layer.

Materials & Applications : Various plastics such as polyamides (nylon), polystyrenes and thermoplastic elastomers. SLS is mostly used for industrial 3D printing applications. 

Pros: The biggest advantage of laser sintering is the almost complete design freedom; excess unmelted powder acts as a support for the structure as it is produced, which allows for complex and intricate shapes to be manufactured with no additional support needed.

Cons: As a side effect of this process, finished objects require more time to cool and thus, cause longer lead times. This technology is also very expensive, however, the research and development is in full swing and the first desktop version are already appearing in the market and most expectedly it will move further into the mainstream market.

Key Industry Players: EOS, 3D systems, Sinterit & Sintratec


Binder Jetting

A 3D Printing technology which provides Full-color printing from sandstone. Entire process and function is just the similar version of SLS the only difference is that it uses a binding agent instead of a laser to fuse the powder for creating a solid layer. The binding agent is extruded from the nozzle to bond the powder together. After the object is finished, it is removed from the print bed, the object is cleaned from excess powder and coated with an adhesive glue to give it strength and to make it resistant to discoloration.

Materials: Full Color Sandstone and Metal Powder

Applications: Widely used for lifelike sculptures and scale modeling. It covers almost all industries. Binder Jetting is used in industrial 3D printing

Pros & Cons: It is relatively affordable compared to SLS as the printing process requires less energy, but the printed objects are less strong.

Key Industry Players: 3D Systems & Voxeljet for color sandstone and for metal powder ExOne.


SLM & EBM | Metal Printing

Selective Laser Melting and Electron Beam Melting are two of the most common metal 3D printing technologies. It is specifically used for industrial 3D printing for Functional prototypes and final parts from various metals and alloys. The basic functionality is similar to SLS where a thinly layered powder is melted and solidified by either electronic beam or a laser with a higher power

Key Industry Players: SLM Solutions GmbH, Renishaw, Concept Laser, Additive Industries 3D Systems, EOS, Arcam

Applications: Industrial – Automotive, Aeronautics and Engineering

Materials: Industrial level metals

Please share your feedback in comments sessions. For any inquiries and questions feel free to contact at “contact me” of this website. Here are some more articles on 3D Printing that you may be interested in:

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