SLS, SLA, or SAF? Comparing 3D printing methods

There are many different 3D printing processes that have been developed in the last decade, and hundreds of materials along with them, each with their own benefits. So why does 3D Composites focus on FDM and SAF?

The difference lies in the materials.

Material properties are the first determining factor for any manufacturing process, and it is the same for 3D printing. Our mainstay printing method has been our FDM process that uses a variety of production-grade thermoplastics to print parts suitable for specified industries like aerospace and medical. The main material component in SAF is PA12, a nylon polymer, and is commonly used in a wide range of applications because of its high mechanical strength and durability.

Selective laser sintering (SLS) and stereolithography (SLA) are both methods of 3D printing that utilize lasers to bond or fuse material into a solid object. SLS uses a powder base material while SLA uses a liquid resin. Both the SLS and SLA methods share some similarities with our preferred process. Selective absorption fusion (SAF) combines the technology of powder bed fusion and certain binder jetting techniques to fuse powder together using infrared energy. Each of these three processes use bonding or fusion to create end-use parts, but we have found that SAF’s fusion technique is stronger, and the nylon polymer material has a wider set of capabilities than resin.

When you are ready to 3D print your parts, we can help make sure you are getting strong, high accuracy prints that are built to last. Connect with us today to get started!

Additive Manufacturing Outlook for the New Year

What 3D printing process is best for your industry? Whether you are designing a huge tooling mold or need to do a run of hundreds of fingernail sized parts, we can print it. It’s a new year and our team and 3D Composites wanted to share with you our thoughts on which of our additive manufacturing processes we can provide for you in 2023.

FDM is still on top for Aerospace
The 3D printing market is growing at an amazing rate, with new technologies and processes continually expanding what can be done for manufacturing. However, it takes time for these processes and materials to meet the test requirements that are necessary for aerospace industry certifications. The FDM printing process has maintained its position because of the high-grade thermoplastic materials options that can meet the requirements of common aerospace standards such as flammability, strength, and durability.

FDM is also a great source for concept modelling and tooling. If you know your project will be printed in FDM you can work from a highly accurate prototype for relatively low costs. Heat resistant materials like Ultem 1010 can withstand thermoforming and autoclaving, making low cost tooling for short production runs accessible to smaller development teams. FDM manufactured parts can also span a greater surface area than other additive manufacturing process because it can keep complex geometries on a small scale while also being able to withstand bonding of oversized builds. Last year 3DC printed over 20,000 FDM aerospace parts for our customers and 2023 will see even more.

High-volume Production & Prototyping with SAF
For us, end use parts don’t stop at aerospace, however. This year our reach has expanded to providing higher volume production runs that will benefit any industry. The selective absorption fusion (SAF) process allows for small part production at a higher rate than previously available to us, yielding repeat parts quickly while still leaving room for customized prototypes. The surface finish of SAF parts can be more aesthetically pleasing than FDM parts, and while Ultem 9085 is still the leader for fly-away parts and Ultem 1010 for high-tempurature tooling, SAF PA12’s mechanical properties give it the rigidity and thermal control for repeatable output. We have found that customers who print items such as medical accessories and industrial caps and fittings have made the switch to SAF because they can get consistent quality at a reduced rate.

We can help you begin
Even as the technology continues to develop, the future of 3D printing and additive manufacturing still offers comparatively sustainable practices and lower costs. Efficient processes and customized solutions can give you the most out of your design. Contact us for more information on what 3D printing processes would be best for your project.

3D Printing In The Film and TV Industry

Hollywood: Where 3D Printed Imaginations Come Alive

This is how 3D printing is affecting the multi-billion dollar industry of Hollywood, where the wildest imaginations come true in special effects. Here are the 3 biggest ways 3D printing is hitting the big screen.

3D Printing Props

Almost all practical effects were made by hand using clay, plaster, foam, chicken wire, fabric, wood, and bits of consumer goods combined in creative ways. Then digital effects took over.

Today, designers are adopting 3D printing to produce many of their props and makeup effects. The reasons? 3D printing is more affordable; doesn’t use many materials – just one is sufficient. 3D printing is faster -just takes a few hours. 3D printing is repeatable – all props, even multiple, can be printed at high quality without them costing more to produce. There’s also durability – 3D printing props are tough enough to survive filming, and easily replaceable if they break. Also, 3D printing produces licensed replicas so that they can be reprinted or resold after being commissioned.

The most printed objects in Hollywood right now are fantasy and sci-fi props. ‘Game of Thrones’ utilized 3D printing with most of its armor, masks, jewelry, and weapons. The props are lightweight and realistic and are more cost-effective than teams of digital effects artists. Examples are the enormous 3D printed dragons in ‘Jurassic Park’, likewise dinosaur remains and species’ skeletons. They have realistic textures, details, even their gender and age. They also 3D scan real fossils to recreate the printed props.

3D Printed Costumes

Costumes are a major part of sci-fi movies like Marvel’s ‘Black Panther.’ Crowns and collars were 3D printed that would have been difficult and time-intensive to stitch or mold. Another is the headdress that actress Angela Bassett in the Queen Ramonda movie. The ‘Iron Man’ armor in multiple movies was 3D printed, scanning the body of Robert Downey Jr. There are also the costumes of ‘Captain America’ and ‘Thor’ using selective laser sintering + carbon fiber reinforced material.

Stop motion 3D Printed Miniatures

These are poseable and customizable dolls required to be precisely placed to move incrementally with each frame, so 3D printing helps create as many variations of facial expressions, props, and characters as possible to make the animation as smooth as possible. Animation studio LAIKA has become famous for their use of 3D printing in their stop motion animated features. 2019 film ‘Missing Link’ currently holds the record at 106,000.

3D Printed Set Design

Production designers can now produce enormous set pieces – overnight. An example is the set design in the space travel biopic ‘First Man’, where a scale replica of the legendary Apollo 11 was built in one go.



Sports Equipment and 3D Printing: Better Performance

Raising the Level of Performance

Imagine what happens when a global IT company partners with a world-class sports brand? Information technology giant, HP is working with Oakley, a California-based sports brand to create 3D printed prototypes and functional parts across Oakley’s portfolio of products.

Oakley Brand

Oakley is a designer, developer and manufacturer of sports performance equipment and lifestyle pieces notably sunglasses. They also produce sports visors, ski/snowboard goggles, watches, apparel, shoes, backpacks, optical frames, and other accessories. They claimed that world-class athletes around the globe depend on Oakley products to compete at the highest level. They are now partnering with HP, with its breakthrough 3D printing technology, to accelerate their design to production timeline, and reconceptualize the way their products are made, pushing the boundaries of sports performance to new heights. Using Multi Jet Fusion, Oakley is reducing the product development stages of its eyewear selection as well as other athletic equipment.

Oakley began integrating 3D printing into its design process in 1992 to create the Eye Jacket sunglasses. Since then additive manufacturing has transformed its development process as well as the silhouette of its sunglasses. As of 2018, the company has been utilizing HP’s Multi Jet Fusion for rapid prototyping across multiple product lines, including sunglasses, helmets, and trophies. It speeds up the design iteration process as designers can fabricate and test color-coordinated parts in a day when it usually takes two to three weeks. Their printer is also capable of producing full-color functional parts while maintaining optimal mechanical properties.

Other Brands and 3D Printing

Other sports equipment companies are incorporating 3D printing to improve athletic performance. There’s Carbon, the Silicon Valley-based start-up behind Digital Light Synthesis partnership with American football equipment provider Riddell to develop customized 3D printed NFL helmet lining. It’s also collaborating with Fizik, a US-based cycling equipment manufacturer, to create a 3D printed bike saddle. GuardLab, a New York-based sports technology brand, also partnered with Bauer Hockey, to launch personalized 3D printed mouthguards.


Accelerating Athletics in Seattle

If you’re into sports and you’ve got something you think will improve your performance in your field, all you have to do is turn to 3D Composites.

The Challenge of Making 3D Printed Body Organs

Liquid-in-Liquid Printing: Meeting the Challenge

While it is true that 3D printing is able to produce tissues and organs for purposes as lab models for study, as drug screens for pharmaceutical products, and as transplant models for thousands of sufferers to prolong and maintain life, there is a single obstacle to a full realization of this good.

Organs like the heart, liver or lung are vascularized, a network of blood supply permeates their inner core and sustains the organ. Hence, in spite of 3D printing advances in organ manufacturing, replicating complicated body parts such as gastric tracts, windpipes, and blood vessels is a major challenge. Vascularized tissues are hard to build up in traditional solid layer-by-layer 3D printing without constructing supporting scaffolding that can later prove impossible to remove.

Researchers and scientists are investigating the problem by looking at liquid support structures. Though that has been experimented before, liquid structures tend to collapse as their surfaces shrink and their matrixes crumple. This time, they intend to replace support structures with liquid, a specially designed fluid matrix into which liquid designs could be injected before the ink is set and the matrix is drained away.

So, the researchers turned to hydrophilic or liquid polymers that create a stable membrane where they meet. They use different polymer combinations: a polyethylene oxide matrix and an ink made of a long carbohydrate molecule called dextran. With an injection nozzle, they pumped their ink into the matrix that can move through the liquid and even suck up and rewrite lines that have already been drawn.

The result was that the liquid structures hold their shape for as long as 10 days before they begin to merge. With the new method, they printed an assortment of complex shapes, like whirls, single and double helices, branched treelike shapes, among others. As soon as the printing is done, the shapes are set by adding polyvinyl alcohol to the inky portion of the structure. The results of their work appeared in Advanced Materials. This means that complex 3D-printed tissues made by including living cells in the ink could soon become a working reality.