7 Paths Inc.

3D Printing

SLS - Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing technique that uses a high power laser (for example, a carbon dioxide laser) to fuse small particles of plastic, metal (direct metal laser sintering), ceramic, or glass powders into a mass that has a desired 3-dimensional shape. The laser selectively fuses powdered material by scanning cross-sections generated from a 3-D digital description of the part (for example from a CAD file or scan data) on the surface of a powder bed. After each cross-section is scanned, the powder bed is lowered by one layer thickness, a new layer of material is applied on top, and the process is repeated until the part is completed.

Compared to other methods of additive manufacturing, SLS can produce parts from a relatively wide range of commercially available powder materials. These include polymers such as nylon, (neat, glass-filled or with other fillers) or polystyrene, metals including steel, titanium, alloy mixtures, and composites and green sand. The physical process can be full melting, partial melting, or liquid-phase sintering. Depending on the material, up to 100% density can be achieved with material properties comparable to those from conventional manufacturing methods. In many cases large numbers of parts can be packed within the powder bed, allowing very high productivity.

Materials - Thermoplastics, metal powders

DMLS - Direct Metal Laser Sintering

The technology fuses metal powder into a solid part by melting it locally using the focused laser beam. Parts are built up additively layer by layer, typically using layers 20 micrometres thick. This process allows for highly complex geometries to be created directly from the 3D CAD data, fully automatically, in hours and without any tooling. DMLS is a net-shape process, producing parts with high accuracy and detail resolution, good surface quality and excellent mechanical properties.

DMLS has many benefits over traditional manufacturing techniques. Speed is the most obvious because no special tooling is required and parts can be built in a matter of hours. Additionally, DMLS allows for more rigorous testing of prototypes. Since DMLS can use most alloys, prototypes can now be functional hardware made out of the same material as production components. DMLS is also one of the few additive manufacturing technologies being used in production. Since the components are built layer by layer, it is possible to design internal features and passages that could not be cast or otherwise machined. Complex geometries and assemblies with multiple components can be simplified to fewer parts with a more cost effective assembly. DMLS does not require special tooling like castings, so it is convenient for short production runs.

Materials - Most alloy metal

FDM - Fused Deposition Modeling

FDM works on an "additive" principle by laying down material in layers. A plastic filament or metal wire is unwound from a coil and supplies material to an extrusion nozzle which can turn the flow on and off. The nozzle is heated to melt the material and can be moved in both horizontal and vertical directions by a numerically controlled mechanism, directly controlled by a computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software package. The model or part is produced by extruding small beads of thermoplastic material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle. Stepper motors or servo motors are typically employed to move the extrusion head.

Several materials are available, such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) polymer, polycarbonates, polycaprolactone, polyphenylsulfones and waxes, with different trade-offs between strength and temperature properties. A "water-soluble" material can be used for making temporary supports while manufacturing is in progress, this soluble support material is quickly dissolved with specialized mechanical agitation equipment utilizing a precisely heated sodium hydroxide solution.

Materials - Thermoplastics, eutectic metals

SLA - Stereolithography

Stereolithography is an additive manufacturing process which employs a vat of liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer "resin" and an ultraviolet laser to build parts' layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and joins it to the layer below.

After the pattern has been traced, the SLA's elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer, typically 0.05 mm to 0.15 mm (0.002" to 0.006"). Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. A complete 3-D part is formed by this process. After being built, parts are immersed in a chemical bath in order to be cleaned of excess resin and are subsequently cured in an ultraviolet oven.Prototypes made by stereolithography are strong enough to be machined and can be used as master patterns for injection molding, thermoforming, blow molding, and various metal casting processes.

Materials - Photopolymers

EBM - Electron Beam Melting

This solid freeform fabrication method produces fully dense metal parts directly from metal powder with characteristics of the target material. The EBM machine reads data from a 3D CAD model and lays down successive layers of powdered material. These layers are melted together utilizing a computer controlled electron beam. In this way it builds up the parts. The process takes place under vacuum, which makes it suited to manufacture parts in reactive materials with a high affinity for oxygen, e.g. titanium.

The melted material is from a pure alloy in powder form of the final material to be fabricated (no filler). For that reason the electron beam technology doesn't require additional thermal treatment to obtain the full mechanical properties of the parts. That aspect allows classification of EBM with selective laser melting (SLM) where competing technologies like SLS and DMLS require thermal treatment after fabrication. Comparatively to SLM and DMLS, EBM has a generally superior build rate because of its higher energy density and scanning method.

Materials - Titanium alloys

Build Envelope Size

Each method has its benefits and disadvantages along with build sizes available for different materials. Contact us today to start your consultation.