The Most Popular Rapid Prototyping Technologies Decoded
SLA is an acronym of Stereolithography Apparatus. It was the first rapid prototyping technology (debuting in the 1980s) and continues to be one of the most popular. SLA uses an ultraviolet laser to cure liquid photopolymer resins, one layer on top of another until the model is fully built. One of the best-known SLA system manufacturers is 3D Systems.
Plus: Very good accuracy, surface finish, and build size capability
Minus: Limited number of photosensitive resins and color options; requires support structures for overhanging features; and may require post-build curing.
Applications: Fit & form testing; Show pieces; Patterns for investment casting, and urethane & RTV molding.
SLS is an acronym of Selective Laser Sintering. Developed at the University of Texas at Austin. SLS uses a CO2 laser to fuse a powder material, one layer on top of another until the model is fully built. One of the best -known SLS system manufacturers is 3D Systems.
Plus: Good accuracy and durability; Processes plastics, metals, and ceramic.
Minus: Relatively poor surface finish; Porous construction may require infiltration; Relatively long cool down time; Expensive.
Applications: Functional testing; Rapid manufacturing of durable parts; Patterns for investment casting.
FDM is an acronym of Fused Deposition Modeling. FDM uses a nozzle that extrudes molten plastics or wax, one layer on top of another until the model is fully built. One of the best-known FDM system manufacturers is Stratasys.
Plus: Good durability; Office compatible; Less expensive; Processes wax and colored plastics
Minus: Slow build time; relatively poor accuracy and surface finish
Applications: Functional testing; Rapid manufacturing of durable parts; Patterns for investment casting, and urethane & RTV molding.
3DP is an acronym of 3D Printing. It was developed by MIT and is growing in popularity because it is fast and inexpensive. 3DP uses an inkjet print head to deposit liquid adhesive onto powdered object material, bonding it. One layer is built on top of another until the model is fully built. One of the best-known 3DP system manufacturer is Z Corporation.
Plus: Fast; Office compatible; Inexpensive systems and materials; Multiple colors within part
Minus: Relatively poor accuracy, strength and surface finish; Limited to plaster and starch materials; May require infiltration after build
Applications: Visual aids and concept models; Architectural & landscape models; Models for consumer goods & packaging; Castings
LOM is an acronym of Laminated Object Manufacturing. LOM uses a laser or a knife to cut a thin layer of material, which is bonded to other layers. This is continued until the model is fully built. One of the best-known LOM system manufacturers is Cubic Technologies (formerly Helisys).
Plus: Office compatible; Inexpensive systems and materials
Minus: Surface finish exhibits stair-step effect; Accuracy and stability of paper objects is relatively poor
Applications: Patterns for sand castings, and patterns for urethane & RTV molding