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The Process of SLS in Additive Manufacturing

What is the Selective Laser Sintering definition?

SLS, short for Selective Laser Sintering, is a method used in 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing (AM). Here's how it works: instead of melting the material completely, SLS heats powdered material just enough to fuse it, forming a solid object layer by layer.

SLS is a versatile 3D printing technique that works with different materials. The most common one is nylon, though plastics and metals are also used for needs.

The Process of SLS in 3D Printing

The process of SLS in 3D Printing
The Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process is similar to other methods like Powder Bed Fusion. Here some Methods

  1. Designing the 3D Model: The first step involves creating a 3D model. This model is typically saved in a file format like STL or OBJ, which contains the object's geometry to be printed. A designer creates a three-dimensional (3D) model using Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.

  2. Preparing the Model for Printing: The CAD model is imported into software, where it's analyzed and adjusted for printing. This process includes scaling, orientation, and adding support structures if needed. The software divides the 3d printing model, generating a path for the laser to follow during the printing process.

  3. Setting Up the SLS Printer: The SLS machine is prepared for printing. This involves filling the build chamber with powdered material. Common materials for SLS include nylon, polyamide, and thermoplastics, but metal powders can also be used in specialized systems. The printer parameters, such as laser power, scan speed, and build platform temperature, are configured based on the material and object specifications.

  4. Printing the Object: In this method, the chamber where the object is being built is warmed up to just below the point where the material turns into a liquid. This helps the powder material stick together. Then, a laser goes over the first layer, melting the powder and shaping it according to the design. Any powder that doesn't melt acts as a sort of scaffolding to support the object being made. Once a layer is done, a blade spreads a layer of powder over the platform, getting it ready for the next round of melting. This keeps going, layer after layer, until the whole object is ready.

  5. Cooling Down: Once the printing is complete, the build chamber and its contents need to cool down to warping or deformation due to thermal stress. This can take several hours, depending on the size of the object and the machine's capacity.

  6. Removing the Printed Object: After cooling, the build platform is removed, and the printed object is extracted from the surrounding unsintered powder. Excess powder is brushed and can often be recycled for future prints.

  7. Post-Processing: The printed object might require further post-processing depending on its intended use. This can include cleaning (removing excess powder), surface smoothing, dyeing, painting, or other finishing processes. In some cases, additional treatments like heat treatment or infiltration with other materials are performed to enhance mechanical properties.

  8. Quality Inspection: The final step involves inspecting the printed object for quality assurance. This can include visual inspection, dimensional checks, and testing for mechanical properties to ensure it meets design specifications.

When SLS parts are made, they're surrounded by a layer of loose powder. This powder acts as a kind of cushion, supporting the part as it's being printed. Because of this, there's no need for additional support structures.

Types of SLS Systems

When we talk about SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) systems, you have two main types: industrial and desktop.

Industrial SLS System

Industrial SLS 3D System

For many years, Industrial Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) systems have been a staple in various industries like aerospace, automotive, and tooling. These systems rely on powerful lasers to do their job effectively.

Because of their size and the heat they generate, Industrial SLS systems need a special environment without oxygen to prevent the powder from reacting. This means they need specific equipment to control the air inside and out. Plus, they need a strong power supply to keep everything running smoothly. These machines require special HVAC and industrial power, even the smallest industrial machines take up at least 10 m² of installation space. Setting them up takes multiple days with on-site installation and training. The complex workflow and the steep learning curve also mean that these systems require a skilled technician in-house to operate and maintain.

Desktop SLS System

Desktop SLS 3D System

Desktop Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) systems work much like the big industrial ones but are designed to fit neatly into smaller setups like small businesses or hobbyist workshops. Instead of the more expensive CO2 lasers, they use lower-powered diodes or fiber lasers, which help keep them down.

Because they're smaller, these desktop systems don't need as much heat for sintering materials, so there's no need for fancy air control systems. They can plug into regular AC power and are ready for work.

Desktop SLS 3D printers are increasingly prevalent as advancements in technology make them more accessible. These scaled-down versions bring the advantages of SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) technology to smaller enterprises, schools, and hobbyists. They enable swift prototyping and manufacturing of detailed components with excellent resolution and robust mechanical characteristics.

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