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What are the 3D Printing Processes?

Introduction

What is 3D printing? Simply put, 3D printing is a manufacturing technique that is growing in usage to make proofs of concepts, prototypes, or end-use products. Companies today have begun to implement 3D printing at different stages of their manufacturing processes and use this technology to rethink their business strategies to stay competitive. 

So how does it work exactly? 3D printing is a technique that builds objects layer by layer using a 3D file, allowing businesses to transform a digital version of an object into a physical version. 

You must determine which 3D printing process you want to use to create the best possible part. Understanding the different 3D printing processes is essential to creating a successful project. Let’s take a closer look at the seven types of additive manufacturing. 

What are the seven types of additive manufacturing?

VAT PHOTOPOLYMERISATION

VAT Photopolyerisation is additive manufacturing that uses a vat of liquid photopolymer resin. A Build platform is lowered, moving downward, and a laser beam draws a shape in the resin, creating a layer. After each resin layer is made, it must be cured using ultraviolet (UV) light. Using motor-controlled mirrors to direct the UV across the resin surface causes it to harden. 

Ideal for parts with a high level of accuracy and detail; however, it lacks the structural support provided by other types of additive manufacturing. Also, these parts are unsuitable for outdoor use as the color and mechanical properties may degrade when exposed to UV light from the sun. The required support structures can also leave markings that require removal during post-processing. 

The most popular vat photopolymerization 3D printing technologies include the following:

  1. Stereolithography (SLA) This process uses a vat of liquid photopolymers resin that can be cured into hardened plastic. The build plate moves in small increments, and the liquid polymer is exposed to light, where the UV laser draws a cross-section layer by layer. The process repeats until a 3D model is created. 
  2. Digital Light Processing (DLP) The liquid resin is contained within a vat, or tank, cured against a build platform, slowly rising out of the tank as the part is formed, layer by layer. The digital light projector is the light source of DLP 3D printers. The DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) is a component of thousands of micromirrors contained within a semiconductor chip matrix. These micromirrors are used for navigating the light beam projected by the digital light projector.
  3. Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) by Carbon – this process closely resembles extrusion to the layer-by-layer build done by most 3D printing processes. A CLIP printer uses photosensitive resin, an ultraviolet (UV) projector, and oxygen to cure the resin material. The build platform begins slightly submerged in the resin tank. As the platform slowly rises from the tank, the resin reacts to the UV light hardening the material while oxygen inhibits the process. As the part is building up, the UV light and oxygen adjust to continuously change the product’s shape as it rises from the tank. 
  4. Daylight Polymer Printing (DPP) by Photocentric Photocentric technology is called Daylight Polymer Printing (DPP). DPP uses a low-energy light source to polymerize liquid resins, in contrast to a high-intensity UV laser or a light projector used in SLA/DLP methods.

MATERIAL JETTING

Material jetting is the process of material deposited onto a surface in the form of droplets. Similar to a typical inkjet paper printer, but applied layer by layer to a build platform and then hardened by UV light. 

Material jetting can be done with many materials, including polymers and waxes. This type of AM is precise, and multiple materials can be used for a single project, and is usually used for realistic models and prototyping. 

Since materials are deposited in drops, the best material would be polymers and waxes due to their ability to form drops. 

Material Jetting 3D printing technology includes: 

Polyjet 3D printing – Essentially, Polyjet technology is a 3D printing process that builds parts by jetting thousands of photopolymer droplets onto a build tray and using UV light to solidify them. After the photopolymerization is completed, the batch is placed under a hot pressurized water jet to remove excess liquid and supports. It is one of the fastest and most accurate processes currently available.  

BINDER JETTING

Binder Jetting is an additive manufacturing method that creates parts layer by layer using a powder base material and a liquid binder. In the build chamber, the powder is equally spread in layers, and the binder is applied to “glue” the powder particles in the shape according to your 3D model. 

When the printing process is complete, the build box is removed from the printer and placed into an oven for curing. Finally, the part is carefully extracted from the build box, and any excess powder is removed with brushes and air blowers. 

MATERIAL EXTRUSION

Fuse deposition modeling (FDM) is the process of adding layers using FDM filaments. One of the most popular additive manufacturing methods, the filament passes through a nozzle that melts during the FDM process. At the same time, it is gradually deposited in a structured way on a build platform layer by layer until an object is complete. The nozzle moves horizontally while the build platform moves up and down vertically after each layer is deposited. This technique can also be found in many inexpensive, domestic, and hobby-style 3D printers. FDM is often used for making prototypes by companies and uses both plastic and metal materials. 

POWDER BED FUSION

Power Bed Fusion (PBF) method uses a heat source, mainly a laser or electron beam, to fuze powder particles layer by layer until a solid part is created. This technique creates parts with precision and enables the manufacturing of various geometrically complex parts. Manufacturers can benefit significantly from this method, considering that PBF has several viable technologies and materials to create substantial design freedom. This industrial manufacturing method is good for prototyping and production of end-use parts. 

The various Powder Bed Fusion methods include: 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) uses lasers to sinter powdered material layer-by-layer to create a solid structure. The final product, enveloped in loose powder, is then cleaned with brushes and pressurized air. The primary materials used in the SLS 3D printing process include polyamide (Nylons), Alumide (a blend of gray aluminum powder and polyamide), and rubber-like materials. Nylons are solid and durable but feature flexibility, making them excellent for snap fits, brackets, clips, and spring features. 


Selective Laser Melting (SLM), also called Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), are additive manufacturing methods that create metal parts. They create parts additively (adding layer by layer) by sintering fine metal powder particles to fuse them together. Like in SLS, the metal part is created layer by layer, according to the 3D model input into the printer. The significant difference is the sintering temperature. 

The DMLS and SLM processes are excellent technologies for those who need to produce metal parts for prototyping or low-volume production. It also allows for the creation of complex and intricate designs. Metal printing is a great manufacturing solution for automotive, aerospace, or any industry looking for components with high mechanical properties and exceptionally high strength.  


Electron Beam Melting (EBM) attains fusion with a high-energy electron beam and produces less residual stress resulting in less distortion. It uses less energy and can produce layers faster than SLS. This method is helpful in industries such as aerospace and defense, motorsports, and medical prosthetics.


Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) by HP, a fusing agent, is applied to a material layer where particles will be fused together. A detailing agent is then applied to modify fusing and create fine details and smooth surfaces. Finally, the area is exposed to energy to create reactions between agents and the material to create the part. No lasers are involved. 

Once this process is complete, the part is gently removed from the printer, and excessive powders are safely removed using air and brushes. 

SHEET LAMINATION

Sheet Lamination is the process of building a 3D part by stacking thin sheets of material, usually supplied by a system of feed rollers, layer by layer, through bonding/ultrasonic welding or brazing them to form a single piece that is then cut by laser or CNC machining to reveal a 3D printed part. 

DIRECT ENERGY DISPOSITION 

Direct Energy Deposition is an additive manufacturing process that consists of a nozzle mounted on a multi-axis arm, which can move in multiple directions and is not fixed to a specific axis. This nozzle deposits melted material onto the specified surface, where it then solidifies. This process is typically used with metals in the form of either powder or wire. 

The versatility and choice of materials with 3D printing

With additive manufacturing, there are plenty of choices for 3D printing materials, from plastic to resin or metal. Within those general materials, there is a wide range of different kinds with different technical properties. After learning the seven types of 3D printing processes, it is easier to identify which material and process best suit your 3D printing projects. 

Additive manufacturing over the years has also advanced to offer the possibility to create parts for demanding sectors using advanced materials such as extremely resistant and rigid materials or professional, flexible plastics. It has also become a way to implement more sustainable manufacturing using bio-based materials, with a series of Nylon PA11 materials. BASF and Sculpteo have combined their strengths to offer a series of bio-based materials with high mechanical and performance to meet all your demands and maintain sustainability. 

Here are some examples: 

Ultrasint® PA11 & MJF PA11 – These are bio-based materials, perfect to create durable parts able to withstand high mechanical loads and stress. Living hinges, parts with high impact resistance, and skin contact certifications, these Nylon PA11 materials are offering great opportunities for the medical and automotive industries.

Ultrasint® PA11 CF – A 3D printing material reinforced with carbon fibers, provides advanced mechanical performance for your parts when strength and rigidity are needed. If your project requires a high strength-to-weight ratio and a high impact resistance, then Ultrasint® PA11 CF might be the perfect solution. 

Ultrasint® PA11 ESD – Ultrasint® PA11 ESD is a bio-derived powder material with electrostatic discharging properties for increased process safety in advanced applications. This material offers new possibilities for a wide range of new applications, especially for the electronics sector, due to its high mechanical performance. 

Other high-performance materials available:

MJF PA12 – The Multijet Fusion PA12 creates parts from a fine polyamide powder. The material is characterized by good elasticity and high impact resistance and is resistant to chemicals, especially hydrocarbons, aldehydes, ketones, mineral bases and salts, alcohols, fuels, detergents, oils, and fats. HP plastic is great for experienced professionals and beginning designers because of its high precision. 3D printing plastic appears to be a good substitute for plastic injection for product development, rapid prototyping, and even production process.

Prototyping Resin –  This Prototyping Resin is 3D printed using a Stereolithography process. This material is perfectly adapted to developing prototypes and could improve your whole prototyping process. This resin offers the opportunity to create highly detailed parts and non-functional prototypes. As this Photopolymer is UV sensitive, products 3D printed with SLA resins might change shapes and colors in sunlight. Always check the design guidelines and technical specifications before sending your part to 3D print. 

Ultrafuse Stainless Steel 316L – is a new industrial-grade metal filament for professional uses. Created by BASF, Ultrafuse 316L filament is composed of 90% stainless steel and 10% polymer binder, allowing it to be used in any FDM/FFF printer.

The material is characterized by its impressive mechanical properties and low cost of production, making it an affordable metal for 3D printing. 

Ultrasint® TPU88A & TPU01 – An excellent option for parts that need flexibility and resistance and are rubbery. With good resilience and high UV stability, this SLS TPU material offers numerous advantages for your projects requiring an elastomeric material. 

Ultrasint® PA6 MF – Ultrasint® PA6 MF (Mineral Filled) is the material of choice for any advanced technical application where mechanically reinforced thermoplastics are needed. PA6 MF boasts extremely high rigidity, media tightness, and enhanced thermal distortion performance. Best suited for the automotive, aerospace, and transportation industries. 

The Benefit and Value

Why are so many businesses turning to 3D printing for their manufacturing needs? Let’s explore some benefits and values that additive manufacturing can produce for individuals and businesses. 

Rapid Prototyping

Additive manufacturing is known to be an efficient prototyping technique because it is faster than traditional manufacturing techniques in creating a proof of concept or a prototype. Making it possible to make iterations quickly since you are working with a digital version of a part, enabling you to make changes to a 3D file directly on your 3D modeling software and then printing a new iteration to see if the results meet what you require. 

Making a new version takes no time at all, enabling you to be able to create rapid prototypes. 

Moreover, this process is cheaper than traditional manufacturing because costs do not increase as you re-print and re-test your prototypes. 

On-Demand Manufacturing

Traditionally, businesses would have to order a certain number of parts or products in order to be cost-effective and then store those items in a facility until products are sold, distributed, or delivered. With additive manufacturing, products can be manufactured when needed and in quantities required. This revolutionary technology is changing the manufacturing game and enabling businesses to save time and money with on-demand manufacturing. 

With on-demand manufacturing, businesses can also deliver precisely what customers want regarding quantities and customization. A customer can order a single prototype with complex geometries and have it made and delivered in very little time. Custom manufacturing is crucial in many industries, like medical prosthetics, where individualized prostheses can be made per each client’s needs. 

Mass-Customization 

This brings us to the ability for mass customization without the high cost; with 3D printing, it can be cost-efficient and adaptable to your clients’ needs. Whereas using traditional manufacturing techniques makes customization expensive, exclusive, time-consuming, and tends to be for niche products. The flexibility of additive manufacturing offers customization at scale! 

Complex Design/ Design for Additive Manufacturing 

Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM) allows for innovation by rethinking and creating your part, optimizing, and improving it without the manufacturing constraints of traditional manufacturing methods. It also allows the creation of complex parts that are easily manufactured and maintain high mechanical properties. So, what can DfAM do for you:

  •  Integrated assembly: Integrate features directly into the structure of your product to get a highly functional product and save time during the assembly process. 
  •  Lattice structures: Strengthen and lighten your products thanks to innovative structures. Lattice structures have high strength and low mass mechanical properties and multifunctionality, which can be especially innovative for aerospace, robotics, or drone industries. 
  • Compliant mechanisms: 3D printing will improve compliant mechanisms with new design solutions such as interlocking parts. But more importantly, you can design a mechanism that can be entirely 3D printed in one piece. 
  • Topological optimization: Optimize the material layout of your product according to given constraints thanks to this mathematical method and maximize the performance of your parts. With topological optimization, you can create the best version of your part! 

Digital Inventory 

Additive manufacturing is also helping businesses rethink their supply chain and inventory to add more adaptability to their business strategies. Instead of storing parts that, as mentioned earlier, take up space in a warehouse, 3D printing allows you to produce parts when they’re needed by dematerializing your production and storing 3D files. The digital inventory now allows you to produce the exact amount of parts needed by each customer when needed. Check out our article “What are the advantages of 3D Printing” to learn about the benefits and advantages. 

Current industries benefiting from AM

Medical

The medical industry was an early adopter of 3D printing, a sector with a lot of potential for growth. The biggest advantage of additive manufacturing for this sector is due to the customization and personalization capabilities that AM technologies provide and the ability to significantly improve people’s lives financially and physically as the technology advances and materials are developed that meet medical grade standards. 

In addition, 3D printing technologies are being used for all kinds of applications in the medical and dental industries, such as metal castings of dental crowns and dental aligners and real-life molds of patients’ bone structures for specific operations to aid surgeons in their work. Another advantage is the ability to directly manufacture stock items, such as hip and knee replacements/implants, and patient-specific products, such as hearing aids, orthotic insoles for shoes, personalized prosthetics, and one-off implants for patients with very specific kinds of diseases. Discover how Medical 3D printing is saving lives!  

Learn how Daniel Robert Orthopedics uses 3D printing to create unique eco-responsible orthopedic devices! 

Automotive

Another early adopter of 3D printing for the use of rapid prototyping was the automotive industry. Currently, AM is being implemented beyond rapid prototyping and for the development and adaption of its manufacturing process. It helps businesses respond quickly to customers’ changing demands and incorporate the benefits of improved materials with high-mechanical properties for automotive applications. Many automotive companies now look at the potential of 3D printing for producing spare/replacement parts, on demand, instead of holding huge inventories or becoming obsolete. Interested in 3D printing an entire car? Yes, it is possible. Check out Automotive and 3D printing: the complete guide to 3D printing a car. 

Drone 

A real draw for the drone industry to 3D printing is the ability to create lighter, stronger, and more functional drones requiring less assembly and fewer parts. With AM, it is possible to create tailored fixtures and lattice structures to reduce the weight of drone parts. 3D printing has become the ideal solution for the drone industry to manufacture iterations to adapt products to clients’ needs. 

Find out how the company Hexadrone used AM to innovate and adapt their most popular drone TUNDRA®.  See our Top Tips for Drone Manufacturing Ebook to help you get started. 

Aerospace 

Another early adopter of 3D printing was the aerospace industry. For its earliest forms for product development and prototyping, in collaboration with academic and research institutes, to push the boundaries of AM technology for manufacturing applications. Due to the critical nature of airplane development, R&D is demanding and uphill, with standards being critical and putting 3D printing technologies to the test. Fortunately, process and material development have been advancing in the aerospace industry, with some non-critical components already flying on airplanes. 

High-profile users of AM include GE / Morris Technologies, Airbus / EADS, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, and Boeing. With these companies taking a realistic approach to what they are doing now with 3D printing technologies, and most of it is R&D, they understand the potential of 3D printing processes and materials. Learn more about 3D printing: A real game-changer for aeronautics

Luxury

The biggest drive for the luxury industry’s use of additive manufacturing is the ability to bring to their clientele a feel of exclusivity and luxury that only customization can provide without it being cost prohibitive. As a newbie in the 3D printing industry, the possibilities are endless; top luxury brands can create accessories, eyewear, footwear, molding, and internal structures for handbags and furniture. Additive manufacturing has a lot to offer this sector, and 3D printing accelerates the design process and time to market and enables on-demand production with high-quality materials and finishes. You can be sure to see top luxury brands begin to use AM for prototyping, small series, and mass production. 

Robotics 

The robotics industry has found many applications for 3D printing, which offers the opportunity to produce unique parts while still conforming to the tight tolerances and perfect finishes that are expected and needed. From educational robotics to assembly line tooling and robotic arms, AM is proving to be a game changer for this industry. Since robotics projects involve hundreds or thousands of parts working together perfectly, 3D printing provides the cost-effective and on-demand manufacturing necessary for the robotics industry. For example, you can take your robotic grippers to the next level with 3D printing

Discover how Generation Robots use 3D printing to produce Poppy, a Humanoid robot with 33 diverse components on-demand. 

Electronics 

With short lead times and quick iterations, you can have your electronic casings manufactured on demand with 3D printing. Additive manufacturing is transforming the electronics industry. Innovate and rapidly produce prototypes for your electronic parts, and learn from the example of Koovea

From prototyping to rapid production, UWTI exploits AM to its advantage. 

Find your 3D printing process with Sculpteo

Now that you are familiar with all the 3D printing processes and the benefits of additive manufacturing technology, you are better prepared to determine if additive manufacturing technology is right for your project or business. 

Check out how to choose between 3D printing processes to start your 3D printing journey. 

With our online 3D printing services, you can find many technologies and materials mentioned above to start your 3D printing project today. 

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