Material Extrusion devices are the most commonly available 3D printing technology in the world. You might be familiar with them as Fused Deposition Modelling, or FDM. They are also sometimes referred to as Fused Filament Fabrication, or FFF.
The way it works is that a spool of filament is loaded into the 3D printer and fed through to a printer nozzle in the extrusion head. The printer nozzle is heated to a desired temperature, whereupon a motor pushes the filament through the heated nozzle, causing it to melt.
The printer then moves the extrusion head along specified coordinates, laying down the molten material onto the build plate where it cools down and solidifies.
Looking at Digital Light Processing machines, these types of 3D printing technology are almost the same as SLA. The key difference is that DLP uses a digital light projector to flash a single image of each layer all at once (or multiple flashes for larger parts).
DLP can achieve faster print times compared to SLA. That’s because an entire layer is exposed all at once, rather than tracing the cross-sectional area with the point of a laser.
SLA holds the historical distinction of being the world’s first 3D printing technology. Stereolithography was invented by Chuck Hull in 1986, who filed a patent on the technology and founded the company 3D Systems to commercialize it.
An SLA printer uses mirrors, known as galvanometers or galvos, with one positioned on the X-axis and another on the Y-axis. These galvos rapidly aim a laser beam across a vat of resin, selectively curing and solidifying a cross-section of the object inside this build area, building it up layer by layer.
Creating an object with Powder Bed Fusion technology and polymer powder is generally known as Selective Laser Sintering (SLS). As industrial patents expire, these types of 3D printing technology are becoming increasingly common and lower cost.
It, also commonly known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), is an additive manufacturing technology that builds high quality complex metal parts from 3D CAD data. In the machine, a high precision laser is directed to metal powder particles to selectively build up thin horizontal metal layers one after the other. This cutting edge technology allows for the production of metal parts with challenging geometries, not possible using traditional subtractive or casting technologies. A variety of functional metals are available to print designs, from prototypes to production series of up to 20,000 units.
– Industry’s best surface finished parts with exceptional accuracy
– Complex and thin-walled structures allow significant part weight reduction
Material Jetting (MJ) works in a similar way to a standard inkjet printer. The key difference is that, instead of printing a single layer of ink, multiple layers are built upon each other to create a solid part.
The print head jets hundreds of tiny droplets of photopolymer and then cures/solidifies them using an ultraviolet (UV) light. After one layer has been deposited and cured, the build platform is lowered down one-layer thickness and the process is repeated to build up a 3D object.
Binder Jetting can also be used for the fabrication of metal objects. Metal powder is bound using a polyer binding agent. Producing metal objects using Binder Jetting allows for the production of complex geometries well beyond the capabilities of conventional manufacturing techniques.
Distinct from other Powder Bed Fusion techniques, Electron Beam Melting (EBM) uses a high energy beam, or electrons, to induce fusion between the particles of metal powder. A focused electron beam scans across a thin layer of powder, causing localized melting and solidification over a specific cross-sectional area. These areas are built up to create a solid object.
Laminated object manufacturing (LOM) is a method of 3D printing. It was developed by the California-based Helisys Inc. (now Cubic Technologies). During the LOM process, layers of plastic or paper are fused — or laminated — together using heat and pressure, and then cut into the desired shape with a computer-controlled laser or blade.
While LOM is not the most popular method of 3D printing used today, it is still one of the fastest and most affordable ways to create 3D prototypes.