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Industrial 3D printing: How does real Additive Manufacturing work?


Unfortunately, many people imagine an FDM 3D printer and low-quality plastic models when they hear ‘’3D printing’’. But this technology has come a long way in a short amount of time. Nowadays, there are whole factories providing you with Additive Manufacturing at the highest standards and quality, capable of mass producing goods. How is industrial 3D printing different from FDM? Let’s find out!

Old-fashioned FDM printers

Fused Deposition Modeling was developed in the 80s and brought a new revolution to rapid prototyping. At first it wasn’t very cost-effective, however, it was fast. Now everyone can get a desktop 3D printer and produce simple models in their own house.

FDM 3D printers use plastic filament. The filament comes in a thin thread. It is pushed into a nozzle where it’s heated up, becoming flexible. The nozzle extrudes the filament out in the shape of your model, layer by layer. FDM printers are capable of pretty thin layers, however, they will also be visible.

Real Additive Manufacturing: Industrial 3D printing

3D printing didn’t stop evolving at FDM printers. Today we have industrial 3D printers that use powder. How exactly does it work and how can powder be turned into a solid object? Let’s find out the differences between a desktop 3D printer and an industrial 3D printer! There are several materials to talk about: plastic, resin, metal, and multicolor 3D printing.

Turning plastic powder into your functional parts

Industrial plastic 3D printing is based on powder. This powder can be a mixture of different elements. The most basic one is fine polyamide powder. Additionally, it can be enhanced with aluminum particles like our Alumide material. Different mixtures can give various properties to the final products such as flexibility or extra strength. This aspect of Additive Manufacturing gives a great number of possibilities to develop new materials which will improve the end products to match exactly their purpose.

What happens to the powder? The printer will spread a layer of powder and then fused the material locally in the shape of your 3D model. Plastic is fused either by a fusing agent (Jet Fusion) or by a laser (SLS). Then, a new layer of the powder is laid and the process repeats itself. In this process, the layers are basically not visible, unless the object is round.


Plastic 3D printing is still the most popular method. If you’re wondering if FDM technology is good enough for your project, you should also consider SLS (Selective Laser Sintering). The choice entirely depends on your project. While FDM is fast, its quality is nowhere near as good as SLS. If you need strong parts with good mechanical properties, producing them with SLS technology will be much more effective.

High performance 3D printing

Additive manufacturing is now offering the possibility to create parts for demanding sectors using advanced materials such as extremely resistant and rigid materials, or professional flexible plastics: we call them high performance materials. It is also a way to implement more sustainable manufacturing using bio-based materials, with a series of Nylon PA11 materials. BASF and Sculpteo are combining their strengths to offer you these high-performance materials and help you go even further in your projects.

Selective Laser Sintering and HP Multi Jet Fusion are two 3D printing technologies offering interesting options in terms of performances.

You can try out some interesting materials such as Ultrasint® PA11 ESD and its electrostatic discharging properties, Ultrasint® PA11 CF reinforced with carbon fibers for more rigidity, Ultrasint® PA11 & MJF PA11 bio-based powders with great resistant properties, Ultrasint® PA6 FR a flame-resistant material, Ultrasint® PA6 MF mineral filled for more resistance, Ultrasint® TPU88A & TPU01 for resistance and flexibility.

Liquid 3D printing

Last, but not least, we came to talk about resin Additive Manufacturing. It all started with SLA technology or Stereolithography, where a thin layer of liquid resin is spread, and then cured in a shape of the model. The solidified part is lifted then from the liquid resin and the process repeats itself.

But resin 3D printing has been evolving and new, more efficient technologies were developed. One of them is DLS, an innovative method by the world’s leader in resin Additive Manufacturing, Carbon. Their technology is based on continuous 3D printing, unlike SLA where the process has to be stopped to refill the resin tank with each layer. Thanks to that, the parts are produced faster and at the same time, they are stronger. 

How is industrial metal 3D printing possible?

Metal 3D printing is pretty powerful and leaders of their industry such as Airbus already utilize this production method to manufacture their fully functional parts. Industrial 3D printers work like plastic ones. A layer of metal powder is spread on the printing bed, then a laser or binding agent is applied locally to solidify the material.

The laser is used for SLM and DMLS technologies, the difference is that in the DMLS process the material is sintered whereas SLM laser fully melts the powder. Binder Jetting, on the other hand, uses a binding agent to fuse the powder.

What can you do with an industrial 3D printer?

Industrial 3D printers using technologies such as Selective Laser Sintering can improve your whole manufacturing process. They can be used for your prototyping process, helping you to iterate faster, or to create large-scale prototypes, which is impossible with a standard FDM 3D printer. Industrial 3D printing is also more and more used for production, benefit from interesting cost reduction for the creation of your small and medium series as well as for the production of limited editions!

Industrial 3D printing is real manufacturing alternative, helping you to totally rethink your product thanks to design for additive manufacturing. Optimize your part, improve the efficiency and properties of your product, and reduce your costs thanks to the design opportunities offered by additive manufacturing and industrial 3D printers. 

Various businesses are now making industrial 3D printing one of their most valuable strengths. Demanding sectors such as automotive, medical, architecture, luxury but also drones and robotics and making the most of this innovative technology to meet the requirements of their projects! The versatility of this technology and its materials will bring many advantages to your business, helping you to meet new challenges.

Is Industrial 3D printing for you?

Real Additive Manufacturing is for anyone who’s production requirements are strength, good quality, and great mechanical properties. From flexible materials to heat-resistant, there are plenty of choices, and one will surely suit your manufacturing needs.

If this topic is interesting for you, check out the 25 best industrial 3D printers. It might also happen that you don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on 3D printers, you should consider using an online 3D printing service. All the industrial Additive Manufacturing technologies we just talked about are available to you. Do you need an instant SLS 3D printing quoteGet an instant quote by uploading your file or contact our 3D printing experts to answer any of your questions.

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