3D Printing Technology
As Product Designers we have been using 3D Printing (or additive manufacturing as it used to be called) for many years. The recent consumer interest has allowed the costs to come down substantially meaning that knowledge and access to these different technologies are within anyone's reach.
We work on many design projects that utilise 3D Printing, for example product prototypes, scale models, small production runs and manufacturing jigs to name just a few. Below are the 3D printing processes we commonly use and a selection of our favourite projects produced using them.
(Selective Laser Sintering)
(Fused Deposition Modelling)
Selective Laser Sintering is an additive manufacturing process that uses a laser to solidify objects within a bed of fine Nylon powder. As each layer is melted by the laser it fuses with the previous one below, until the model is fully formed. Once the process is complete the excess powder is removed with compressed air. The typical surface finish produced is that of an Extra Strong Mint, but the object can be polished to that of a Softmint. Typically the nylon can only be printed in white, but can be dyed or painted any colour.
✓ Smooth Surface Finish
✓ High Quality and Detail
✓ No need for supports when printing overhangs
Applications: Working prototypes, Stronger parts, Architectural Models, Complex Scale models, Medical parts
Fused Deposition Modelling is also an additive manufacturing process but uses an extruded thermoplastic filament to build up the layers. It uses two materials, the modelling material that constitutes the object and a support material, which acts as a form of scaffolding. They are unwound from a coil and heated to a semi-liquid state before being fed onto the build platform. After cooling any support structure is broken away, leaving the finished model.
✓ Can print in multiple colours and materials
✓ Can endure heat, chemicals and mechanical stress
✓ Low Cost
Applications: Manufacturing aids, Low volume production parts, Jigs and fixtures, Functional prototypes
Stereolithography uses a vat of resin and Ultraviolet laser beams to build parts top to bottom. The laser beam traces a pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. This exposure to Ultraviolet light cures and solidifies the pattern and joins the material to the layer below as the build platform goes down to create to next layer. After the 3D printed part is formed, it is immersed in a chemical bath for cleaning. During SLA post-processing, supports are removed, and the part is placed in an ultraviolet oven. Once this is complete, the part is ready for use.
✓ High resolution parts with smooth surface finish
✓ Create accurate moulds for mass-production
✓ Design flexibility
Applications: Anatomical models, Large investment cast patterns, Lightweight concept models, Urethane casting patterns
PolyJet technology is similar to inkjet printing but instead of ink on paper, it jets layers of liquid photopolymer resin onto the build platform. The photopolymer is cured by a Ultraviolet lamp within the printer, creating the 3D object. PolyJet printing differs to SLA in that it builds bottom to top and jets the resin rather than curing a pattern into a vat. Where complex shapes are required, the printer jets a removable gel-like support material which is easily removed by hand or water post-print.
✓ Produce complex shapes and intricate details
✓ Produce diverse material properties and colours
✓ Produce flexible buttons and grips
Applications: Presentation models, Flexible rubber-like models, Prototypes for fittings, valves and parts with complex interior features