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SLS vs SLM: Comparison of Manufacturing Methods in 3D Printing


3D printing has been growing at a tremendous rate in the last few years. And the required technology has vastly improved to accommodate this growth. We are no longer limited to prototyping and creating parts for toys and trinkets. Industrial 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing (AM) can create durable products for every type of business.

Many sectors can take advantage of industrial 3D printing applications. In the architecture, automotive, aerospace, and healthcare industries, everyone can benefit. The ability to quickly produce quality prototypes and proof of concepts will transform your business. This article will help you understand SLS vs SLM 3D printing techniques. Knowing which technique is best for your needs can help you take advantage of this innovative technology.

What is Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)?

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a powder-based additive manufacturing technology. The printing process begins by sintering or fusing fine polymer powder particles together. This creates the initial base for your item. The build chamber then lowers the item by around 100 µm and adds another layer. A laser continues to sinter your part layer by layer according to your 3D model.

Once complete, the build chamber cools and we remove the finished components. The components then undergo extensive post-processing. This includes separating the parts and cleaning excess powder. Our SLS technology can provide you with a wide range of materials and finishing options.

The best material for your project will depend on your needs. You can choose from Nylon PA12, Ultrasint® PA11, PA12 (grey), Nylon 3200 Glass-Filled, and Alumide. We also use Ultrasint® PA11 CF, Ultrasint® PA11 ESD, Ultrasint® PA6 MF, Ultrasint® TPU 88A. Each material has its own characteristics, from durability and thermal resistance to elasticity and rigidity.

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Advantages of SLS for Prototyping and Small Production Runs

Selective Laser Sintering has many advantages, making it an ideal choice for 3D printing. It is incredibly reliable and efficient, and you can get your product to market in a short time frame. As one of the fastest printing methods, it is a perfect choice for small-volume production and prototyping. And with a wide range of materials and finishing options to choose from, you can get the ideal finished product.

SLS will produce components with intricate and complex geometries with high accuracy. The parts do not need any support structures, affording you a lot of freedom in your design. You can create complex designs layer by layer without needing to produce many separate parts. High accuracy and fast turnover times make it the ideal choice for many projects.

What is Selective Laser Melting (SLM)?

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is an industrial 3D printing process that uses similar technology to SLS. But unlike SLS, it creates parts additively by sintering fine metal powder particles. A high-power laser melts and fuses the metal powder into solid surfaces. One major difference with SLM technology is the sintering temperature.

SLS can sinter nylon or polyamide material at temperatures of around 160°C to 200°C. But SLM and DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) need a higher-wattage laser. The sintering of metal material requires temperatures of between 1,510°C and 1,600°C. The process follows a similar principle to SLS. A roller applies metal powder and the laser will sinter the powder according to your 3D design.

Stainless Steel 316L

Advantages of SLM for High-Strength Metal Parts

SLM is a 3D printing process that produces complex metal parts with incredible precision. The process supports a large variety of materials. These include titanium, aluminium, and steel, making SLM a perfect solution for many projects. We use stainless steel 316L and Titanium 6AI-4V materials to create high-strength parts.

The mechanical properties of these materials will produce quality functional prototypes. Several industries, including aerospace, medical, and automotive, already benefit from SLM. And it is an ideal choice for small series production runs. SLM is a perfect solution to produce high-quality metal parts with high complexity.

Comparing Selective Laser Sintering and Selective Laser Melting Processes

SLS and SLM are both powerful industrial 3D printing techniques. While they share similarities, they are quite different in their uses. Each process has specific applications where it is the best choice. SLS is a great choice for functional prototypes, proof of concepts, and small production runs. SLM printers excel in the creation of high-quality metal parts.

An example of where SLS truly shines is in the production of consumer goods and electronics. The ability to use many varieties of materials makes it extremely versatile. Using nylon or polyamide material, you can achieve detailed, durable, and functional parts. That makes it ideal for rapid prototyping and small-scale production runs.

SLM is best used for the production of high-quality metal items. The higher relative density and greater material strength make it ideal for producing more durable parts. The only downside might be the need for more expensive printers. SLM and EBM (Electron Beam Melting) require a lot of laser power.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between SLS and SLM

Choosing between SLS and SLM can be a complex decision. There are several factors you should consider depending on your requirements. The first thing to consider is the type of material you need for your project. SLS is ideal for parts composed of thermoplastic materials. SLM is best used for the production of high-quality metal parts. Also, you should consider the level of accuracy and detail you require.

Your strength requirements might be a deciding factor whether you opt for SLS or SLM. In addition, you should look at your budget and lead time constraints. SLS and SLM have different production requirements. This may be your determining factor if you have a tight schedule or delivery requirements. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each process will help you make an informed decision.

Finding the Right Industrial 3D Printing Technique for Your Project

Understanding SLS and SLM is critical for every industrial 3D printing project. Both processes have unique strengths and applications. Whether you need high-quality prototypes or small-scale production runs, you should weigh up the pros and cons of each process.

Get in touch with our team of experts at Sculpteo to explore the options available to you. We can support any industry in the adoption of additive manufacturing. With 3D printing, you can achieve results that were previously out of your grasp. Integrating additive manufacturing into your production will ensure you have high-quality products.

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