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How is Using SLS 3D Printing for Production Now More Affordable than Ever?

SLS 3D printing can create parts with a detail level comparable to injection moulding — and it does so at incredible speeds. But the technology has historically suffered from prohibitively high costs. Now, technological innovations are making it more accessible …

Ile Kauppila

October 19, 2022

SLS 3D printing can create parts with a detail level comparable to injection moulding — and it does so at incredible speeds. But the technology has historically suffered from prohibitively high costs. Now, technological innovations are making it more accessible and affordable than ever.

New printers, software solutions, and other technologies bring industrial-level productivity to any business and workshop. Even small operators can now print accurate and durable parts at low price points.

Read on to learn how the latest machines and tools have made SLS 3D printing more affordable than ever before for any business, especially SME’s.

SLS 3D Printing Can Be Demanding

SLS 3D printing is a powerful technology capable of making functional parts for end-use applications. The printers use strong laser beams to melt thermoplastic powders into solid objects. For a more in-depth look into the SLS printing process, read our blog on the basics of SLS printing.

SLS is a popular technology in many demanding industries, such as automotive, aerospace, and medical. It offers users and operators a great variety of benefits, including:

  • Rapid Production: SLS is one of the faster 3D printing technologies available. The exact speed depends on the machine, but multi-laser systems can produce potentially dozens of parts in a matter of hours.
  • High Productivity: SLS printers encourage you to maximise your productivity, since the more parts you build, the less waste you produce. Additionally, SLS offers one of the highest ROI rates out of any additive manufacturing method.
  • Design Freedom: Unlike many other technologies, SLS parts don’t require supports. The loose powder and other parts in the print chamber support printed components, enabling you to create extremely complex geometries, like interlocking parts.
  • Low Waste: It’s possible to recover and reuse up to 70% of the loose powder after a print job. Powder recycling reduces material waste and lowers material costs.

Despite the benefits, SLS 3D printing has traditionally been very demanding and expensive. The machines have been too large and costly for anyone but the largest businesses.

Material costs have also been high, and many old SLS printers require specialised training to operate. As a result, SLS printing has suffered from accessibility issues.

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Print SLS Parts with Speed and Accuracy

But SLS technology has advanced rapidly over the past few years, with more compact and affordable machines entering the market. At the head of the pack, Formlabs Fuse 1 has changed the SLS printing landscape.

Introduced in January 2021, the Fuse 1 was a revolutionary machine. It was a benchtop-sized and affordable printer that could still produce parts at the same strength and quality as its larger industrial-sized cousins.

Now, Formlabs has introduced an update to the Fuse family. Formlabs Fuse 1+ builds on the foundations laid down by its predecessor.

The original Fuse 1 was already fast, but the Fuse 1+ leaves it in the dust. The upgraded printer sports a powerful 30W laser and an enhanced galvanometer for enhanced printer head movement. As a result, Fuse 1+ can achieve print speeds up to two times faster than its previous iteration.

Fuse 1+ produces parts with high durability and sharp, accurate detail, but it can now do so with more material options. Thanks to a new powder handling system and an inert nitrogen gas chamber, the Fuse 1+ can print with Nylon 11 and Nylon 12, with the latter also having glass and carbon fibre-reinforced powders available.

The printer is simple to use with a clear touchscreen interface and software. It produces parts with end-use-ready mechanical properties at a great speed. Businesses of all sizes can realise complex, demanding part designs at a record time — without breaking the budget.

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Harness the Latest Software Tools

SLS 3D printing relies on more than just a high-quality printer. Each part requires careful preparation to ensure successful print runs. Advanced and highly automated print preparation programmes can help businesses streamline their SLS 3D printing workflows and achieve higher levels of productivity.

Alongside the physical printers, software tools for additive manufacturing have advanced in strides in recent years. One of the more popular software manufacturers in the field is Materialise with its collection of high-end 3D printing solutions.

For example, Materialise Magics is an advanced, smart data preparation software for additive manufacturing. The solution is technology-neutral which allows it to work in tandem with any 3D printers — including SLS machines.

This industry-standard software has a specific Sinter Module add-on for SLS printers, which enables fast, automated print preparation processes to improve throughput and print speeds. Materialise Magics automatically handles many of the complex and time-consuming parts of SLS print preparation — such as part nesting, collision detection, and orientation optimisation. It can simulate the print process before physical printing, which allows you to spot and correct possible issues before wasting material.

Materialise also offers other software solutions for 3D printer operators. Their catalogue includes Materialise 3-Matic —a CAD design optimisation tool — and Build Processor, which streamlines data transfer between computers and printers.

Affordable and Efficient Post-Processing

One of the stumbling blocks of SLS 3D printing is the fact that each printed part requires post-processing. You must at least remove caked-on powder from the parts. The part surface of SLS parts is also often slightly uneven and porous, and has a distinct salt-and-pepper colour.

Cleaning and smoothing parts by hand is a time-consuming process. To this end, several companies have created innovative post-processing stations to get SLS parts ready for use faster and cheaper.

For example, the AM Solutions M1 Basic is an affordable entry-level post-processing station for SLS printed parts. It’s suitable for processing both single parts and small batches. The machine handles powder removal and part cleaning, while also smoothing part surfaces.

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More demanding SLS users have found the AM Efficiency post-processing solution a welcome addition to their workflow. This 3-in-1 machine de-powders, cleans and colours, and polishes parts in a single automated process. True to its name, this workstation introduces an efficient, fast, and affordable post-processing workflow for SLS 3D printing.

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Enhance Your SLS 3D Printing Operation

These innovations — alongside many others — have changed the nature of AM industry by making SLS printing faster and more accessible. What was once an exclusive technology, requiring large investments in money, time, and space, is now readily available to all businesses requiring production 3D printing.

Modern compact and affordable SLS printers, such as Formlabs Fuse 1+, have democratised SLS printing. These machines can fit in any workshop, enabling even small businesses to open up new revenue streams. Together with advanced software and post-processing solutions, they have made the SLS technology more affordable and faster than ever.

The pace of innovation has not slowed down. We don’t know what the future will bring, but it’s certainly to be excited about. Meanwhile, SLS 3D printers continue to break down barriers in the additive manufacturing industry.

— Want to learn more about how to introduce SLS 3D printing to your business? The AM experts at Solid Print3D are happy to help you! Call us at 01926 333 777 or email us at info@solidprint3d.co.uk.

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