Today, 3D printing is extensively and widely applied, deeply impacting fields such as aerospace, construction, healthcare, food production, mechanical engineering, and education. From computer-designed models and simulations, 3D printing technology creates complex objects with extreme precision. Different materials and printers use various types of 3D printing technologies. Do you know the main types of 3D printing technologies currently in use? 

What is 3D Printing? 

3D printing, also known as Additive Manufacturing, involves creating objects by layering materials successively until a three-dimensional object is formed. This technology contrasts with traditional subtractive manufacturing processes, which involve cutting away excess material from an initial block to achieve the desired shape. 

The process begins with a digital model, typically created using computer-aided design (CAD). Users can create any shape or detail through special design and simulation software. 

For you: 5 Best 3D Metal Printing Simulation Software 

Main Types of 3D Printing Technologies: 

There are several advanced 3D printing technologies widely used today, each with its unique characteristics, features, strengths, and weaknesses. The main technologies include: 

1. Stereolithography (SLA) 

2. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 

3. Selective Laser Melting (SLM) 

4. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) 

5. Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) 

6. Inkjet Bioprinting 

1. SLA 3D Printing Technology (Stereolithography) 

SLA is a 3D printing technique that uses a laser to solidify layers of liquid resin according to a 3D design, forming a complete solid object. 

1.1. Working Principle of SLA 3D Printing Technology 

SLA 3D printing technology operates on the principle of photopolymerization. An SLA printer uses a tank of liquid photopolymer and a UV light source, typically a laser, to harden each layer of material. The process involves: 

- The print platform is positioned a set distance from the surface of the photopolymer liquid. 

- UV light (laser or projector) is directed onto the liquid surface, solidifying the photopolymer where illuminated. 

- After a layer is hardened, the print platform lowers by a specified distance to form the next layer. 

- This process repeats until the entire 3D model is completed. 

SLA 3D printing technology

1.2. Printing Materials for SLA Technology 

- SLA 3D printing uses various photopolymer resins, ranging from rigid to flexible, and from transparent to colored. 

- Additives such as metal or ceramic powders can be included to create special printing materials. 

1.3. Advantages and Disadvantages of SLA 

1.3.1. Advantages: 

- High accuracy, capable of printing complex details with a minimum size of 0.2 mm. 

- Smooth surface finish, requiring minimal post-processing. 

- Relatively fast printing speed compared to other 3D printing technologies like FDM. 

- Wide range of printing materials, meeting diverse needs. 

1.3.2. Disadvantages: 

- Higher printer cost compared to other 3D printing technologies. 

- Print size limited by the size of the resin tank. 

- Printed materials may shrink after printing. 

- Supports are needed for overhanging parts. 

1.4. Applications of SLA 3D Printing Technology 

SLA 3D printing technology is widely applied in various fields due to its ability to print complex details with high accuracy and smooth surfaces. Here are some notable applications: 

- Rapid Prototyping: Quickly and accurately producing prototypes to test design and functionality. 

- Part Production: Printing complex parts that are difficult to manufacture using traditional methods. 

- Healthcare: Printing medical models, dental implants, and surgical tools. 

- Jewelry: Printing intricate, unique jewelry designs. 

- Education: Printing visual teaching aids for learning. 

Some products printed by SLA technology

2. SLS 3D Printing Technology (Selective Laser Sintering) 

2.1. Working Principle of SLS 

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a type of powder bed fusion process that uses a high-power laser to heat and bond powdered plastic particles without fully melting them. 

The 3D printing process with SLS starts with a thin layer of powdered material spread over the surface. The laser selectively sinters each layer, and then the print bed lowers, and a new layer of powder is spread. This process repeats until the complete object is formed. 

2.2. Printing Materials for SLS 

- SLS primarily uses flexible plastic powders such as nylon, polyamide, and polystyrene. 

- It can also print using powders made of ceramics, steel, titanium, aluminum, silver, glass, and metal alloys. 

SLS 3D-printed items

2.3. Advantages and Disadvantages of SLS 

2.3.1. Advantages 

- Creates diverse models in terms of color, shape, and complex details using various powders such as plastic, metal, glass, and ceramics. 

- Does not require support structures since unsintered powder acts as a support material, reducing material waste. 

2.3.2. Disadvantages 

- SLS produces porous, slightly rough, and coarse surfaces, which may have small holes requiring post-processing (polishing or coating) to improve appearance and durability. 

- The cost of SLS 3D printers is relatively high, making them primarily used in production. 

2.4. Applications of SLS 

SLS is commonly used for rapid prototyping and manufacturing plastic parts, serving the initial stages of the R&D process in mechanical engineering and construction. 

- Aerospace: Producing specialized parts and components. 

- Healthcare: Creating visual simulation models of the body. 

- Household Goods and Everyday Items 

- Electronics: Manufacturing small electronic components. 

3. SLM 3D Printing Technology (Selective Laser Melting) 

3.1. Working Principle of SLM 

Selective Laser Melting (SLM) is considered the most advanced 3D printing technology compared to other current 3D printing technologies. It is also a type of powder bed fusion process, using a high-power laser to fully melt and fuse metal powder particles to create a complete 3D printed metal object. The energy density is much higher than in SLS 3D printing. 

The SLM 3D printing process involves the following steps: 

- An SLM printer has three powder containers: a distribution powder container, a manufacturing powder container, and a surplus powder container. 

- The laser beam selectively scans and fully melts the metal powder particles to form a solid metal layer. 

- This process is repeated continuously until the desired 3D object is obtained. 

3D printing process diagram with SLM technology

3.2. Printing Materials 

SLM can print metals such as titanium, aluminum, steel, and copper. 

3.3. Advantages and Disadvantages of SLM 

3.3.1. Advantages 

- Accurately produces 3D metal objects with complex details without the need for cutting tools or CNC machines. 

- Allows for multiple parts production, reducing manufacturing time. 

3.3.2. Disadvantages 

- SLM requires more energy, cooling, and post-processing than SLS. 

- It may encounter thermal and mechanical issues, residual stress, deformation, and cracking more than SLS. 

- The cost of the printer is high. 

3.4. Applications of SLM 

Metal 3D printing technology with SLM is suitable for the aerospace, medical, and automotive industries due to its high precision and performance. 

- Aerospace: Equipment, brackets, engines, etc. 

- Healthcare: Implants and dental devices. 

- Mechanical Engineering: High-pressure mechanical parts, fixtures, brackets, blades, etc. 

- Automotive: Replacement parts. 

- R&D: Creating new materials for production, such as super titanium materials. 

Metal products printed using SLM 3D printing technology

With widespread and effective applications in many fields, SLM metal 3D printing technology is increasingly attracting the attention and investment of businesses. To find a quality machine suitable for your business, you can refer to some of the most prominent metal 3D printers available today, such as the SLM125, SLM280, SLM500, etc. 

Information above is Vinnotek's sharing for Part 1 of the types of 3D printing technology commonly used today, hope the above information is useful for you. See you in Part 2!

To exploit the full potential of 3D printing, professional design and simulation services are needed. Vinnotek emerges as a reliable partner in this domain, offering comprehensive 3D printing design and simulation services for critical parts in many industries, such as aerospace, automotive, energy, and medical. 

We not only bring the benefits of advanced 3D printing technology but are also the official representative of Nikon SLM Solutions - one of the world's leading 3D metal printer manufacturers and Titomic - a pioneer in large-scale additive manufacturing applications, such as tools, spare parts, and machine parts, replacing traditional manufacturing methods.  

With a combination of creativity and professionalism, we are committed to working with your business to optimize designs, reduce production costs, and improve work efficiency. 

Contact Vinnotek today to experience innovation and advancement in your industry! 


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