What Is Selective Laser Sintering?

Selective Laser Sintering - 4 November, 2022
What Is Selective Laser Sintering?
Author
Vicki May
Date
4 November 2022
Category
Selective Laser Sintering
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Today, 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular for its variety of different uses.

Although there are 7 3D printing methods, we will focus on one particular used by many people in different industries, Selective Laser Sintering

Selective Laser Sintering is a 3D printing method and additive manufacturing technology that is mostly used for industrial purposes. Selective Laser Sintering uses polymer powder and high-powered carbon dioxide lasers to print three-dimensional plastic objects.

Here we will explain what Selective Laser Sintering is, how it works, and its major advantages and disadvantages. 

What Is Selective Laser Sintering?

Selective Laser Sintering, SLS for short, is the most popular 3D printing method out of all the others. This 3D printing method is an additive manufacturing technology developed by Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman from the University of Texas in the 1980s.  

With Selective Laser Sintering, high-powered lasers such as carbon dioxide lasers generate heat to bind or sinter polymer powder to create and form solid three-dimensional objects based on a digital 3D model that one designs on a computer. Selective Laser Sintering is primarily used for creating objects that are made of plastic. 

Although there are several materials, each with its own unique benefits one can use for 3D printing to print three-dimensional objects, many use Nylon, a synthetic thermoplastic polymer material for Selective Laser Sintering. 

Furthermore, one can use Selective Laser Sintering technology in a variety of different applications, such as:

  1. Automotive hardware prototypes.
  2. Aerospace end-use parts.
  3. Military end-use parts.
  4. Medical and pharmaceutical equipment.
  5. Electronic hardware. 

How Does Selective Laser Sintering Work?

Unlike other 3D printing methods, which take longer and are quite complicated, Selective Laser Sintering is a fast and simple process. Below we discuss exactly how Selective Lasering Sintering works by individually looking at what happens during the pre-printing and printing phases. 

The Pre-Printing Phase Of Selective Laser Sintering

The pre-printing phase is extremely important in the Selective Laser Sintering Process. This phase involves using CAD software to design your desired 3D model. The following are three popular examples of CAD software you can use:

  1. Fusion 360
  2. SolidWorks
  3. Onshape

Once you have designed the model, it has to be exported in a 3D printable file format such as:

  • STL
  • OBJ
  • 3MF

All Selective Laser Sintering printers feature print preparation software responsible for sending the instructions and CAD data from the computer to the printer wirelessly or via cable connection. The print preparation software allows you to:

  1. Change and specify printing settings.
  2. Change the orientation of the models.
  3. Determine the print times.
  4. Arrange the order of models to be printed.

Selective Laser Sintering 3D printers begin printing after reading the data and instructions. 

The Printing Phase Of Selective Laser Sintering

The Selective Laser Sintering Process begins with the powder bin and the build area/platform of the Selective Laser Sintering printer heating up just below the specified melting temperature of the chosen polymer powder. 

The powder bin has a built-in re-coating blade responsible for spreading a thin layer of polymer powder over the heated-up build area to begin the process of creating the 3D model design.

Once a layer of polymer powder is spread over the build platform, a high-powered CO2 laser that generates heat scans the layer’s contours to sinter or bind the polymer powder particles together to complete a layer of the 3D model design. 

Each time a layer is completed, the build platform moves down to allow the re-coating blade to spread a new layer of un-sintered polymer powder. 

The re-coating blade continues to spread the polymer powder onto the build platform with the CO2 high-powered laser scanning each polymer powder layer to ensure the binding and sintering of the powder particles until the model is completed. 

What Are The Advantages & Disadvantages Of SLS?

Due to its many advantages, Selective Laser Sintering is one of the most popular additive technologies and methods of 3D printing. However, just like any other technological advancement, Selective Laser Sintering also has its downfalls. Let us explore the major advantages and disadvantages of this 3D printing method. 

The Advantages Of Selective Laser Sintering

Let us first look at the major advantages of Selective Laser Sintering.

  • 3D models that are printed using Selective Laser Sintering do not need support to hold the model together as the leftover unsintered polymer powder provides support to each layer. 
  • Selective Laser Sintering allows for detailed 3D model printing.
  • Selective Laser Sintering can be used for batch printing.
  • Selective Laser Sintering is a great 3D printing method to use for creating durable and robust prototypes. 
  • This is one of the fastest 3D printing methods since it only requires a high-powered laser to sinter polymer powder. 
  • Selective Laser Sintering can easily produce complex designs and models with moving or interlocking parts. 

The Disadvantages Of Selective Laser Sintering

Now that we have explored some of the advantages of Selective Laser Sintering that contribute to its popularity let us take a look at the downfalls of this 3D printing method. 

  • With Selective Laser Sintering, although Nylon is the most popular polymer powder used in the printing process, it can be dangerous to anyone who inhales its fine particles. 
  • Selective Laser Sintering produces less flexible 3D models than other 3D printing methods. 
  • The Selective Laser Sintering process produces more waste than other 3D printing methods, as a lot of leftover nylon powder often remains after the 3D model is created.
  • Selective Laser Sintering is limited to industrial use only and cannot be used at home. 
  • With Selective Laser Sintering, one is limited in what raw materials one can use to create 3D models. 
  • Selective Laser Sintering is extremely expensive. 

Conclusion

After exploring Selective Laser Sintering(SLS), we can see that it is one of the most popular 3D printing methods. SLS involves creating three-dimensional plastic objects with the use of polymer powder and high-powered CO2 lasers to bind or sinter the particles of the powder. 

Moreover, like other different forms of technology, Selective Laser Sintering also has advantages and disadvantages. This 3D printing method is fast and simple and creates strong and solid 3D objects. However, Selective Laser Sintering is expensive and produces a lot of waste. 

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