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A Comparative : The Two Most Popular Types of 3D Printers

FDM Vs SLA Is Filament Vs Resin

We are taking a closer look at the two most popular 3D printers: FDM and SLA 3D printers, also known as filament and resin 3D printers. Both have been adapted and made better for the desktop, hence, they are more affordable and capable, and easier to use. Let us see how they compare in terms of applications, materials, quality of print, cost, and others.

Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM is the most widely used 3D printer in the market. It works by extruding thermoplastic filaments through a hot nozzle, melting the material and applying the plastic layer by layer to a build platform one at a time until the part is complete. They are well-suited for basic proof-of-concept models and fast and low-cost prototyping of simple parts, such as machined parts.


Stereolithography or SLA or resin 3D printing is the opposite of FDM, melting plastic into liquid, using a UV reactive liquid that’s hardened under light. Each cured layer uses an LED array that emits light in a set pattern. This process is called photopolymerization. It has the ability to produce high-accuracy, isotropic, and watertight prototypes and parts in a range of advanced materials with fine features and smooth surface finish. It is suitable for detailed models, miniatures that are quite complex to work with.
In terms of print quality and precision, due to the process by which layers are formed the surface quality, level of precision, and the accuracy of each layer, and consequently, the overall print quality are affected. FDM printers tend to produce uneven layers, with voids in between; unlike SLA printers that produce fine features, smooth surface finish, ultimate part precision, and accuracy.

In terms of materials and applications, due to the abundance of color options and various experimental plastic filaments blends, FDM 3D printing is popular among the hobbyist space sector. However, engineering materials and high-performance thermoplastics that are also available are often limited to selected professional FDM printers. SLA resin materials have the benefit of a wide range of formulation configurations, or those with additives, or those with mechanical properties like high heat deflection temperature or impact resistance. There are various resin formulations that offer a wide range of optical, mechanical, and thermal properties.

In terms of cost, FDM 3D printers are low- cost machines, a main selling point. They are easier to use and more tailored to businesses. They create the cheapest parts if only relatively simple prototypes in limited numbers. SLA printers are at a slight premium as they offer higher resolution, better quality, and more printing materials choices; they become more cost-effective as designs become more complex and batches larger. This is due to SLA’s less labor-intensive post-processing.

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The 3D Printing Role in Robotics Automation

Robotic Hands That Can Pick Up Anything

While 3D printed robotic arms have been successfully used to sort packages on a conveyor belt or bolt a screw in place on a car engine, there are instances when it cannot just pick up objects of different shapes in an assembly line. Some engineers at the University of Washington are finding ways and results are looking promising.

At the height of the pandemic, a team of University of Washington computer scientists and engineers were helping the government in manufacturing PPEs like face masks and face shields. Ford Automotive also helped, but personnel had to be brought in because the robotic arms being used just couldn’t pick up the face shields as easily and as cheaply as a steering wheel.

Robots do repetitive tasks over and over again. But you cannot turn them from manufacturing cars to manufacturing face shields just like that. So the team at the university decided to turn to a 3D printer to help solve this problem. They needed to have robotic hands or grippers pick up an item in order to be able to manipulate it, to scan it, to do other things with it.

The researchers used computer-aided design models of different objects ranging from household items to more complex shapes. They used software to identify the three best points on that object that a robotic hand, or gripper, could reach for and grab without knocking it over. It must be able to pick on the right three points to balance it just right. There is a set of instructions in the computer that could be fed into a 3D printer to make a plastic, three-fingered, hand-like gripper customized to the shape of the object being picked up.

Likewise, the team were also able to have the exact shape to pick up an object without any additional components to install, retool an entire robot by just using a cheap 3D printer to print off components, and rotate the objects 180 degrees.

The results are encouraging. The team believes that with more shapes to work with, they will gain more familiarity with the capabilities of the robotic hand. All they need to do now is to experiment with more objects of different shapes and, in the future, scale up the capabilities of robotic automation from doing 20 objects daily to 2 million.


Robotics Automation At Its Best

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3D Printing Into The New Millenium

The Milestones in the 2000s

Now we continue on with the remarkable history of 3D printing, as it leaves the 1990s, which years heralded the wide diversification of the technology. With so many developments, we are concentrating only on the most important breakthroughs.

The year 2000 saw the first 3D printed kidney; however, it took another 13 years to have one transplanted into a person. Since then, there have been more 3D printed kidneys now working perfectly while other 3D printed organs for transplant are developing rapidly.

In 2004, a self-replicating 3D printer was launched – a 3D printer printing another 3D printer. It’s called the RepRap Project, an open-source initiative that spreads the use of the FDM 3D desktop 3D printers. In 2005, the very first high-definition color 3D printer was introduced, called the Spectrum Z510 by ZCorp. In 2006, the first commercially available SLS printer was released, with on-demand manufacturing of industrial parts. CAD tools also became more available at this time, enabling anyone to develop 3D models on their computers.

In 2007, 3D Systems introduced the first 3D printing system under $10,000. It did not quite catch on as insiders, watchers, and users were looking forward to 3D printers under $5,000. Actually, 2007 was the year accessible 3D printing technology took root. Thanks to the RepRap phenomenon. In 2008, the first prosthetic leg was printed and it was sensational around the world. By 2009, new companies and competitors began to avail of the new technology as FDM patents fell into the public domain. The prices of 3D printers started to decline in the 2010s, making them available to the general public. Quality and ease of printing also increased.

Materials also evolved. A variety of plastics and filaments became widely available. Carbon fiber and glass fiber can be 3D printed. In 2012, alternative 3D printing processes were introduced at the entry level, like those using DLP technology, followed by stereolithography, with huge success. It was also in 2012 that many different mainstream media channels featured the technology. 2013 was a year of significant growth and consolidation. In 2019, the world’s largest functional 3D printed building was completed. 3D printing is now being used in developing healthcare applications, and many industries and sectors have adopted the technology into their daily workflow. By the 2020s came the more advanced additive manufacturing materials that are high performance materials offering improved thermal resistance, chemical resistance, or heat resistance for the most demanding applications.


Advancing Into The Future with 3D Printing

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The Value and Benefits of 3D Printing

3D Printing Vs Traditional Methods

3D printing offers a host of benefits that all facets of work life, whether that be personal, local, or industrial, can avail. The value it offers is far more than traditional methods of manufacturing, or prototyping, can give.

3D printing allows for mass customization. This means that final products can be personalized and in accordance with the end-user’s specifications at no additional expense. 3D printing can ensure that even if products are mass-produced, there is flexibility and freedom of design experience.

3D printing offers levels of complexity. Complex components can easily materialize with 3D printing, offering more impressive visual effects. Products can be more light-weight, stronger, intricate and detailed as desired. Traditional processes have design restrictions that make manufacture of complex products very difficult. Some industrial applications such as in aerospace, automotive, and medicine benefit from this.

3D printing can eliminate the need for tool production. This is true for low to medium volume applications, such as industrial manufacturing. There are stages of product development in the making of tools that are very time-, cost-, and labor-consuming. With 3D printing, intricate geometries and complex components can be achieved without the need for costly assembly requirements. Hence, budget goals, including saving, are easily realized.

3D printing products can be produced on demand. This advantage eliminates the need to keep huge inventories and to maintain storehouses, improving logistics. Products are manufactured quickly and shipped anywhere where needed in calculated time.

3D printing is environmentally friendly and sustainable. The 3D manufacturing process utilizes as much as 90% of its materials, thus affording less wastage. Due to the light weight of 3D printed components, more fuel is conserved leading to reduced carbon imprint on the environment

With these range of benefits compared to traditional manufacturing methods, and the technology advancing and revolutionizing as it goes, it is no wonder that 3D printing is a gamechanger par excellence.


More Value Than Conventional Manufacturing

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How 3D Printing All Began: Timeline of A Revolution

The History of 3D Printing

3D printing technology was first called Rapid Prototyping (RP) back in the late 80’s. It was boasted as fast and cost-effective for building prototypes used in product development. A certain Dr. Kodama, Japanese patent lawyer, first filed the patent application in 1980, but for some reason, delayed in making it before the prescribed deadline. Hence, by 1986, Charles Hull, was issued the first patent for stereolithography apparatus. He first invented his SLA machine in 1983 and later co-founded 3D Systems Corporation. Today it is one of the largest and most prolific organizations in 3D printing.

Rapid Prototyping Technology

The corporation’s SLA process may be the first but it was not the only rapid prototyping technology at the time. In 1987, Carl Deckard of the University of Texas, filed a patent for the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) RP process, which later on 3D Systems Corp. acquired. In 1989, Scott Crump, a co-founder of Stratasys Inc. filed a patent for Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which was issued in 1992. It is still in use today as well as the most preferred process of many entry-level printers now.

Europe was not to be left behind. So in 1989, Hans Langer founded EOS GmbH in Germany. The company also dealt in SLS in the beginning but its Research & Development refocused and later placed heavier emphasis on the laser sintering (LS) process with much vigor. Today, their systems are recognized worldwide for quality output for industrial prototyping and production applications of 3D printing.

During all these years, other 3D printing technologies and processes were emerging, namely Ballistic Particle Manufacturing (BPM), Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM), and Solid Ground Curing (SGC). Other competing companies entered the field and the RP market grew in size in the 90’s. The three – 3D Systems, EOS and Stratasys – were the originals still in big business today.

From the 1990’s up until early 2000’s new technologies continued to be introduced, mostly on industrial applications and largely for prototyping applications. R&D was the focus of the more advanced technology providers. New terminologies begin to emerge, namely Rapid Tooling, Rapid Casting and Rapid Manufacturing. And then there’s Additive Manufacturing. Now it’s the accepted umbrella terminology for all things 3D printing due to the expansion of applications.

By the mid 90’s, distinct diversifications began to emerge. There’s high-end 3D printing, expensive but geared towards high value, highly engineered, complex parts. Applications expanded and covered aerospace, automotive, architectural, and medical, among others. Then there’s the lower market – the 3D printers in the mid range where a price war raged with some improvements in printing accuracy, speed and materials.

Stay tuned for the developments in 3D printing history when the 2000’s roll in our next blog.