How to pick the most suitable technology for my design

How to pick the most suitable technology for my design

Craftcloud Craftcloud

In 3D printing, different technologies possess different capabilities which can either enhance or limit the printability of certain designs. Below, we’ve provided a short insight into both what the technology entails and what materials can accommodate certain designs. You will also find links to more information after each technology.

Please note, this is a basic outline of different technologies and their respective materials. As you are best aware of your project and the requirements you have for your design, we kindly urge that you conduct further research until you are satisfied with the material of your choosing. 

Fused Deposition Modeling - FDM

One of the most affordable technologies in 3D printing is FDM technology. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) works by fusing together layers of materials to create an object. The material, in this case, is generally a thermoplastic filament, which is melted and then extruded layer by layer onto the print bed. The most common materials are PLA, ABS, PETG, ASA, HIPS, Ultem, FDM Nylon/TPU and Polycarbonate, just to name a few. Since the technology prints the part layer by layer, the end product does not usually possess a smooth surface.

In FDM 3D printing, support structures are necessary when the print has overhangs or features suspended in mid-air. They allow for the successful printing of complex shapes by propping up these otherwise unsupported areas. The manufacturers are responsible for adding supports to your design, and you need not worry about this at the time you place your order. 

Since supports are removed after the print has been completed, there can be small marks where the supports were. Manufacturers clean these up to the best of their abilities without causing the part to break. Designs that have a complicated or intrinsic geometry might not be suitable for this technology, indicating that not all designs are suitable for FDM materials. 

FDM technology is best used for building low-cost models, great for hobbyists and makers and when precision and surface finish is not crucial. 

More information:

Stereolithography SLA

Stereolithography (SLA) is an additive method that builds layer by layer using a curable photopolymer – typically a liquid resin – that is hardened by applying focused light or UV light to cure the part. SLA is the most popular technology for producing resin prints. SLA printers usually produce higher-resolution objects and are more accurate than FDM parts. Please note that resins are very versatile materials. They can be printed in several different technologies. Therefore, on our service, they can also be printed in one of these technologies: Polyjet / DLP / CLIP / DLS / LCD / MSLA.

SLA materials generally print parts that are very high in detail such as figurines, but some resin materials might not be suitable for mechanical purposes that require a part to have strength and durability. 

Please be aware that models made using SLA technology may deteriorate over time and after extended periods of sun exposure. Materials such as silicone and elastic resin are flexible to their respective flexibility degree, which can be found on the material guide on the website.

More information:

Selective laser sintering - SLS

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is a more typical method for 3D printing in an industrial environment. In an SLS machine, the laser is used to melt, fuse or sinter a powder together to eventually form an object.

An advantage of this method is that printed supports are not needed, as the surrounding unsintered material acts as a support throughout the print. As a result, parts can be more complex, both with respect to geometrical structure and interlocking components. Another strength of SLS printing is that a much wider variety of useful materials can be printed more accurately than is possible with other methods, resulting in stronger and more reliable parts.

It is worth mentioning that, generally speaking, 50% of the non-sintered powder can be recycled. One downside to SLS is that designs that are long and thin are prone to warp, which is something to consider when choosing the appropriate technology. Please note that some designs printed in this technology which are rather long and thin can reflect flexibility in the part up to a certain degree.

SLS materials include SLS Nylon PA12, SLS Nylon PA11, SLS Polypropylene, TPU and Alumide, just to name a few.

More information:

Multi Jet Fusion - MJF

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology introduced to the market by HP. The MJF printing process lays down a layer of material powder on the printing bed. Following this, an inkjet head runs across the powder and deposits both a fusing and detailing agent onto it. An infrared heating unit then moves across the print. Wherever a fusing agent was added, the underlying layer melts together, while the areas with detailing agent remain as a powder. The powdery parts shed off, which produces the desired geometry. This also eliminates the need for modeling supports, as the lower layers support those printed above them.

The MJF technology facilitates fast printing speeds and production cycles, high chemical resistance and consistent mechanical properties. Additionally, it incurs less water, for example, due to powder recycling and has the ability to produce colored parts. On the other hand, the technology is unable to produce some curved and hollow geometries, and final results can have a blotchy gray finish, which can mean small details and texts might be lost in the post-processing stage. Kindly note that some longer, thinner designs printed using this technology can be flexible in the part up to a certain degree.

MJF materials include HP MJF Nylon PA12, HP MJF Nylon PA11, MJF Polypropylene and others.

More information:

Binder Jetting - BJ

Binder Jetting (BJ) is a relatively new 3D printing technology that makes use of powders which are bound together with liquid binder agents to make solid parts. BJ essentially consists of a combination of SLS and material jetting. Unlike SLS, the powder is not heated as throughout the entire process, heat is not involved.

The main benefits of the metal binder jetting technology is the high customization possibilities and the fast production time. Additionally, it is low cost and 100% of the powder can be recycled. A weakness of this technology is that it is not suitable for mechanical properties in comparison to metal powder bed fusion. The most common applications for BJ are functional metal parts, decorative models that require a high level of detail, prototypes, and certain jewelry designs (plating finish options can be used for these intended purposes).

BJ materials include 420/BR SS, 316L SS and PMMA.

More information:

Selective Laser Melting - SLM

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is similar to SLS, and both processes are covered under the powder bed fusion umbrella. Aside from using different feedstock and powder, the major difference between SLM and SLS is the fact that SLM printing works with support structures.

While SLS uses mainly Nylon (PA) polymer materials, SLM is specifically for metals. Nevertheless, the basic process is essentially the same.

The surface finish of the sintered parts is rough and, depending on your requirements, may need some post-processing. It is also common to machine SLM printed parts to achieve fine tolerances and features, surfaces, and holes.

Advantages of this technology include the ability to print complex shapes or internal features. Part consolidation and therefore production of multiple parts at the same time is also possible. Disadvantages of the technology include that it is slightly expensive and incurs a rough surface finish due to the need of supports.

The industries which often make use of this technology include the following:

  • Medicine: patient-specific implants and other high-value medical device components
  • Automotive: high-speed prototyping and bespoke parts or low volume, high-value applications
  • Aerospace: ducts and other parts
  • Tooling: conformal cooling channels in production tool inserts

SLM materials include most metals like Aluminum, Titanium and 316L SS, to name a few.

More information:

Lost Wax Printing & Casting

Lost-wax casting is a process of creating a wax mold of an object in order to cast a metal version of the object. Many different metals can be used in lost-wax casting, and bronze casting is a popular use for this type of casting. The method of lost-wax casting is mainly used to produce jewelry. Indeed, this technology is ideal for producing high-quality small parts. Metal Casting's numerous finishing options will allow you to create aesthetic jewelry and decorative pieces. This technology allows a wide-range of finishing options such as antique, satin, plater and mirror polished surfaces.

More information:

Now that you are well-informed about 3D printing technologies, and you are in need of material specifications, please find our material spec sheet here for more information.

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