There are numerous 3D Printing technologies available, also known as Additive Rapid Prototyping Systems, with new ones coming online on a regular basis. As of this writing, five of them represent the majority of printers on the market today, and they are:
- Fused Deposition Modeling 3D Printers (FDM)
- Polyjet 3D Printers
- Zcorp 3D Printers
- Stereolithography 3D Printers (SLA)
- Selective Laser Sintering 3D Printers (SLS)
A few questions to ask yourself when researching 3D Printer technologies are:
- What is the intended use for the model to be printed, decorative? funtional? conceptual?
- What kind of suface quality does your model need?
- How durable will your model need to be?
- Which of these variables do you need to analyze, Form? Fit? Feel? Function?
- What is your budget related to the printing?
In this article I will discuss the various pros and cons of the different technologies listed above.
#1 – FDM is a technology that consists of a nozzle that heats a commodity, or engineering grade plastic such as Polycarbonate, ABS, Ultem, Polysulfone, as well as many custom blends, to a less viscous state, and extrudes that material in horizontal layers that build a 3D Model. The layers are 5-13 thousandths of an inch (.005″ – .013″) thick. The resolution in the X-Y plane is .001″, with pretty good dimensional accuracy. Another nozzle extrudes a material that supports overhangs and undercuts, that is either a break away or a dissolvable material that is removed after the model has been printed.
The Stratasys company developed this technology in the late 80s, and commercialized it in 1990. Models made on these machines are very durable, for functional testing, as well as being useful for production parts, also known as Direct Manufacturing. The surface quality is a little coarse, with noticeable stepping in the layers, but with excellent overall dimensional stability.
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