3D Learning Hub

Explore the World of 3D Printing Technologies

Introduction

In the realm of manufacturing and innovation, 3D printing technologies have emerged as a revolutionary force, transforming the way we create and produce objects. This article delves into the various aspects of 3D printing technologies, offering insights into their applications, advancements, and the future of this groundbreaking industry.

As a 3D printing service, we know that the variety of materials and technologies available on the market can be confusing for the consumer. That is why we decided to make this comprehensive guide.

Understanding 3D Printing Technologies

What is 3D Printing?

The first step is the preparation just before printing, when you design a 3D file of the object you want to print. This 3D file can be created using CAD software , with a 3D scanner or simply downloaded from an online marketplace. Once you have checked that your 3D file is ready to be printed , you can proceed to the second step.

The second step is the actual printing process. First, you need to choose which material will best achieve the specific properties required for your object. The variety of materials used in 3D printing is very broad. It includes plastics, ceramics, resins, metals, sand, textiles, biomaterials, glass, food and even lunar dust! Most of these materials also allow for plenty of finishing options that enable you to achieve the precise design result you had in mind, and some others, like glass for example, are still being developed as 3D printing material and are not easily accessible yet.

The third step is the finishing process. This step requires specific skills and materials. When the object is first printed, often it cannot be directly used or delivered until it has been sanded, lacquered or painted to complete it as intended. If you need colored 3D printed parts a lot of post processing options are available.

The material chosen for the project will determine which printing methods are most suitable. Among these, the most commonly used techniques for each group of materials are described next.

Types of 3D Printing Technologies

There are several types of 3D printing technologies, each with its unique features and applications. This section explores common techniques such as Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), and more. Understanding these methods is crucial for choosing the right technology for specific projects.

What are the seven forms of additive manufacturing?

VAT PHOTOPOLYMERISATION

VAT Photopolymerization in additive manufacturing involves a vat of liquid photopolymer resin. A build platform descends, moving downward, and a laser beam shapes the resin, forming a layer. Subsequently, each resin layer must undergo curing with ultraviolet (UV) light. Motor-controlled mirrors direct the UV across the resin surface, causing it to harden. This method is suitable for high-precision, detailed parts but lacks the structural support of other additive manufacturing types. Parts produced may not be suitable for outdoor use due to potential degradation in color and mechanical properties when exposed to sunlight. Additionally, post-processing may be required to remove markings left by support structures. Popular vat photopolymerization 3D printing technologies include:

  • Stereolithography (SLA) – Stereolithography (SLA) is a high-precision 3D printing technology developed in the 1980s. It utilizes a liquid photopolymer resin that is solidified layer by layer with a laser, following the contours of a digital 3D model. This process enables the creation of intricate and detailed objects with smooth surfaces. SLA is widely used for rapid prototyping due to its speed, accuracy, and the ability to produce prototypes that closely resemble the final product. It finds applications in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, healthcare, and consumer goods.
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP) – DLP operates by projecting light onto a liquid photopolymer resin. The resin solidifies layer by layer as the DMD, consisting of thousands to millions of tiny mirrors, selectively reflects light onto specific areas. This precise light control results in the creation of detailed and accurate three-dimensional objects.

DLP technology is known for its speed in comparison to traditional 3D printing methods, as an entire layer can be cured simultaneously. This makes it particularly efficient for rapid prototyping and small-scale production. Additionally, DLP can produce objects with smooth surfaces and fine details, making it suitable for applications in jewelry, dentistry, and other industries where intricate designs are crucial.

  • Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) – Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) is an advanced 3D printing technology developed by Carbon3D. It operates by continuously projecting UV light patterns onto a liquid resin through a transparent, oxygen-permeable window. This process allows for rapid and seamless production of high-resolution objects without the traditional layer-by-layer approach. CLIP stands out for its speed, producing items up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing. The resulting 3D-printed objects exhibit smooth surfaces and intricate details, making CLIP versatile for applications in various industries, from prototyping to end-use parts in automotive, healthcare, and consumer goods.
  • Daylight Polymer Printing (DPP) by Photocentric – DPP, a Photocentric technology, uses a low-energy light source to polymerize liquid resins, differing from high-intensity UV laser or light projectors in SLA/DLP methods.

MATERIAL JETTING

Material jetting deposits material in droplet form onto a surface, similar to inkjet printing but layer by layer on a build platform, then hardened by UV light. It is precise, allows for the use of various materials, and is suitable for realistic models and prototyping. Material jetting 3D printing technology includes:

  • Polyjet 3D Printing – PolyJet stands out for its capability to simultaneously jet multiple materials during the printing process. This allows for the creation of complex objects with varying material properties, colors, and transparencies in a single print job. Additionally, it offers high precision and resolution, making it suitable for applications requiring intricate details.

The technology works by jetting microscopic droplets of liquid photopolymer onto a build tray. Each layer is cured with UV light immediately after deposition, ensuring accurate and fine layer resolution. The process supports the use of support materials that can be easily removed, enabling the creation of intricate geometries and overhangs.

PolyJet is widely utilized in industries such as product design, automotive, and healthcare for prototyping and producing detailed, realistic models

  • Binder jetting – Binder Jetting is a 3D printing technology that builds objects layer by layer by selectively depositing a liquid binding agent onto a powder bed. This method is distinct for not using heat or lasers. After printing, the green part undergoes additional processes for structural integrity. Binder Jetting is known for its speed, cost-effectiveness, and versatility with various materials. It’s widely used in industries like aerospace and healthcare for rapid prototyping and producing functional prototypes or end-use parts.

MATERIAL EXTRUSION

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is a widely used and accessible 3D printing technology that fabricates objects layer by layer using thermoplastic materials. Developed by Stratasys, FDM is known for its simplicity, versatility, and affordability.

In the FDM process, a filament of thermoplastic material is heated to its melting point and extruded through a nozzle in precise layers. The nozzle moves along the predetermined path, depositing the melted material layer by layer, gradually building up the final three-dimensional object. The layers quickly solidify upon deposition, creating a durable and structurally sound product.

FDM supports a variety of thermoplastic materials, including PLA, ABS, PETG, and more. This versatility allows users to choose materials based on specific requirements such as strength, flexibility, or heat resistance. Additionally, FDM technology often includes a support material that can be easily removed, enabling the printing of complex geometries and overhangs.

This technology is widely used for rapid prototyping, product development, and even low-volume production. FDM 3D printers come in various sizes, from desktop models suitable for hobbyists to industrial-scale machines for large-scale manufacturing. Its accessibility and ease of use make FDM an ideal choice for a broad range of applications in industries like aerospace, automotive, healthcare, and consumer goods.

POWDER BED FUSION

Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) uses heat, typically a laser or electron beam, to fuse powder particles layer by layer.

  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an advanced 3D printing technology that constructs objects layer by layer by selectively fusing powdered material with a high-powered laser. Developed for rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing, SLS stands out for its versatility in working with a variety of materials, including polymers, metals, and ceramics.

In the SLS process, a thin layer of powdered material is evenly spread across the build platform. A laser then selectively sinters or fuses the powder according to the cross-section of the 3D model, solidifying the material in the desired shape. The process is repeated for each layer until the entire object is formed within the powder bed.

One notable advantage of SLS is its ability to produce complex geometries and intricate designs without the need for support structures, as the unsintered powder acts as a self-supporting material during the printing process. Additionally, the layer-by-layer approach enables the creation of functional, durable parts with high precision.

SLS is widely used in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, and healthcare, for rapid prototyping and the production of end-use parts. The technology’s ability to work with a range of materials and produce objects with strong mechanical properties makes it a popular choice for applications requiring robust and intricately designed components.

  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM) – Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is an advanced 3D printing technology that uses a powerful laser to selectively melt and fuse metal powders layer by layer. This process creates intricate, fully dense metal objects with excellent mechanical properties. SLM is widely used in industries like aerospace and healthcare for producing end-use parts and prototypes due to its precision, ability to work with various metals, and capacity for intricate designs.
  • Direct Metal Laser Sintering – Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) is an advanced 3D printing technology that utilizes a high-powered laser to selectively fuse metal powder particles, layer by layer, creating fully dense and intricate metal components. This additive manufacturing process is renowned for its precision and the ability to produce complex, high-quality metal parts, making it a preferred choice for applications in aerospace, automotive, and healthcare. DMLS enables the production of functional prototypes and end-use parts with excellent mechanical properties, offering versatility in materials such as stainless steel, titanium, and other metal alloys.
  • Electron Beam Melting (EBM) – Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is a high-tech additive manufacturing process that utilizes an electron beam to selectively melt and fuse metal powders layer by layer. This results in the creation of complex and fully dense metal objects with excellent structural integrity. EBM is particularly valued in industries like aerospace and healthcare for its ability to produce high-quality, intricately designed metal components through a precise and layer-by-layer additive approach.
  • Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) – Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) is an advanced 3D printing technology developed by HP (Hewlett-Packard) that excels in producing functional, detailed, and high-quality parts. In MJF, a thin layer of powdered material, typically a polymer, is spread across the build platform. Multiple inkjet arrays selectively apply fusing and detailing agents onto the powder, followed by exposure to infrared energy to induce rapid fusion and solidification of the material. This process is repeated layer by layer, allowing for the creation of precise and complex three-dimensional objects. Multi Jet Fusion is recognized for its speed, accuracy, and the ability to produce parts with fine details, making it well-suited for applications in prototyping, manufacturing, and product development across various industries.

SHEET LAMINATION

Sheet Lamination builds a 3D part by stacking thin sheets of material layer by layer. The sheets are bonded or welded through ultrasonic bonding or brazing and then cut to reveal the final 3D printed part.

DIRECT ENERGY DEPOSITION

Direct Energy Deposition is an additive manufacturing process using a multi-axis arm-mounted nozzle to deposit melted material onto a surface. This process, commonly used with metal powder or wire, allows for movement in multiple directions and is not fixed to a specific axis.

How to choose between 3D printing technologies?

Get a better understanding of the use of additive manufacturing compared to traditional manufacturing techniques.

Choosing the right 3D printing technology involves considering various factors based on your specific needs, project requirements, and available resources. Here are some resources to help you make the best decision for your project:

Multi Jet Fusion

3D printing technology: MJF vs SLS

Are you looking for a plastic 3D printing technology? If you are considering MJF and SLS, let’s look more closely at their similarities and differences.

Applications of 3D Printing Technologies

Industrial Applications

3D printing has found widespread use in various industries, including aerospace, healthcare and automotive. Learn how these technologies are revolutionizing production processes, reducing costs, and enabling rapid prototyping.

Consumer Applications

Beyond industrial use, 3D printing has become accessible to consumers. From personalized products and home decor to customized fashion and hobbyist creations.

Advancements in 3D Printing

Materials Innovation

One of the key drivers of 3D printing evolution is the continuous development of materials. From traditional plastics to advanced composites and even bioplastics ors biodegradable options, explore how material science is expanding the possibilities of 3D printing.

Speed and Precision Improvements

Recent advancements have significantly enhanced the speed and precision of 3D printing technologies. This section discusses breakthroughs in printing speed, layer resolution, and the integration of artificial intelligence for optimized printing processes.

Bioprinting and Medical Applications

The future of 3D printing holds exciting possibilities, with bioprinting emerging as a frontrunner. Explore how 3D printing is poised to revolutionize medicine, from organ transplants to personalized prosthetics.

Sustainable 3D Printing

As environmental concerns grow, sustainable 3D printing practices are gaining traction. Learn about eco-friendly materials, recycling initiatives, and the role of 3D printing in promoting a greener manufacturing landscape.

The list of 3D printing technologies and processes continues to grow as 3D printing is always changing. The 3D printing industry continues to innovate its hardware as well as the materials and processes to create objects or parts. Depending on many factors such as budget, design or function, choosing the appropriate 3D printing process as well as the right material is important. 3D printing can create many different 3D printed objects that were previously only fabricated through mass manufacturing methods.

An online 3D printing service like Sculpteo exists due to the complexity, time and skills required for the printing and Finishing steps. This complexity may hinder people from using this wonderful technology, but at Sculpteo we apply our knowledge to serve anyone willing to try 3D printing, as we want to broaden access to additive manufacturing technology. 

What is the strongest 3D printing technology?

Get the latest 3D printing news delivered right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to hear about the latest 3D printing technologies, applications, materials, and software.

[hubspot type=form portal=5154612 id=b27fa532-8013-433b-8ee4-64c465c0eca2]