The Most Important 3D Printing Technologies & Materials You Need to Know (Part 1)

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AnetLau
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If you believe that all 3D printers use filaments, and terms like Stereolithography, Laser Sintering and PolyJet Printing cause you headaches, then this blog post is for you. In this post, we’ll give you an overview of the essential 3D printing technologies and 3D printing materials that are currently used on an industrial level.

Filament-based 3D Printing


Home printers typically work with plastic filament. The technology behind this is often referred to as “Fused Filament Fabrication” (FFF). In our 3D printing factory, we have more professional, industrial-grade machines: our filament printers use a technology called “Fused Deposition Modeling” (FDM).

In an FDM printer, a long plastic filament is fed by a spool to a nozzle where the material is liquefied and ‘drawn’ on the platform, where it immediately hardens again. The nozzle moves to place the material in the correct location to build your model up layer by layer. When a layer is drawn, the platform lowers by one layer thickness so the printer can start with the next layer. Sounds similar to a regular home printer? Read on!


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3d printing with FDM printers


Now here’s the cool part: Unlike most home printers, our FDM machine actually uses a second filament that is used for building support material. Since the material used to build the model cannot be deposited in the air (e.g. for overhanging parts), the support material prevents it from falling down. After the printing process, the model is put into a bath with special soap. The support material dissolves automatically in this bath. Thanks to this, your designs can be really complex and contain interlocking, interlinking, and movable parts.

A good example of the kind of piece you can make using this technology is the fully functional, continuously adjustable screw-wrench below – all printed in one piece.


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ABS prints: Functional & strong but with a rough surface.


The printing material these printers use is called ABS. This material will give you a print that is strong and accurate. ABS is very useful for functional applications because it matches 80% of the properties of real injected production material. However, the surface quality of the models produced with this material is rougher compared with other materials.


Powder-based 3D Printing


The next big family of printers that we have is not based on filament but on powder. Laser Sintering is used to create 3D prints in Polyamide, Alumide, and Polypropylene.


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3D prints in Polyamide come in many different finishes and colors.


The interior of the printer is heated up to just below the melting point of the powder of your choice. The printer then spreads out an incredibly fine layer of this powder. A laser beam heats up the areas that need to be sintered together just above the melting point. And voila: the parts that were touched by the laser are now fused together while the rest continues to remain loose powder.


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how-laser-sintering-works


The models are printed layer by layer with the help of this laser beam. After a layer is printed, a new layer of fresh powder is spread over the surface by a roller. After the printing job is finished, the result is a big block of powder that contains the printed (sintered) models inside. In order to get your prints out of the powder block, we need to dig into the box of un-sintered powder and brush away the excess.


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Digging 3D printed parts out of un-sintered powder. Photo by Arthur Los from Milo-Profi studio. Copyright by Flanders Investment & Trade.


So why is this such a great technology? No supporting structure is needed! The un-sintered powder is the supporting material. This allows for complex designs, and even interlinking and moving parts. Have a look at the following video to get a better idea about how it works:

Other materials such as Steel, and High-Detail Stainless Steel also rely on powder, but are not laser sintered. Instead, a binder is used to “glue” parts together. We refer to this technology as “Powder- & Binder-based 3D Printing”.


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Going strong: 3D printed steel keychain ‘Rainbow Dash’ by Ben Scholzen


The starting process of this technology is quite similar to Laser Sintering: a roller puts a thin layer of powder on a platform. However, instead of a laser beam, a special print head places a binding agent at specific points, printing a thin layer of your model that is able to bind to subsequent layers. This process is then repeated over and over again until your model is complete.


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3d-printing-with-powder


Since your model was only ‘glued’ together, some post-processing is necessary with this 3D printing technology. The exact post-processing steps heavily depend on the material. For example, High-Detail Stainless Steel and Steel objects are placed in an oven for fusing. Steel models are additionally infused with Bronze for extra strength.


Created by Fabian in i.materialise.com


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