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3D printing technologies

Different methods of 3D printing

3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique. This contrasts with the subtractive manufacturing technique that involves removing material from a block using machining tools. Unfortunately, this technology limited the creativity of 3D designers, as it was not easy to reproduce their original design.

Additive production consists in creating a 3D model by layering materials that automatically fuse to form the end product. It is widely appreciated by 3D designers as they can use it to print the most complex forms.

3D printing technology was originally invented by Richard 'Chuck' Hull in 1977 in the US, and his first 3D Systems machine was sold in 1983. Since then, many other technologies have been developed both in plastics and in metals.

Additive manufacturing has been widely adopted across all industries, as it can considerably save time and money. They use it to make prototypes and functional parts.

One of the most common technologies is FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling). This "thread" technology is very popular with the general public and with educators as it is relatively affordable but printing time is very lengthy and the resolution is rather rough.

Ideal for professionals and industry, SLA (stereolithography) is based on the principle of photopolymerization of resin, layer by layer, exposed to a source of light or heat.

It delivers high surface quality and very good value for money. Finally, still very expensive but interesting for most industrial applications, is SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), a technique that binds material powders in layers using a laser beam. SLM (Selective Laser Melting) is an additive manufacturing technique used on metals, and is very similar to SLS.

Finally, used in the aeronautical and military markets, EBAM (Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing) is a technique whereby strategic metal wire (alloys, titanium, tungsten) is melted layer by layer by an electron beam in a high vacuum. Above all it is used to produce large-size parts (several metres)

The advantages

In recent years, 3D printing has met with tremendous success thanks to its many benefits. And in most cases, it reduces the production cost and lead times.
This technique creates objects of all shapes, without technical constraints. 3D printing usually uses plastics but metal and other materials are also tested (wood, food, organic, etc.).

3D printing is a key process for competitive companies because the technology enables them to:

  • develop and accelerate their creativity and innovation: 3D designers print their prototypes, hone their 3D designs, and reprint them until final validation.
  • rapidly view the results: the object is ready for use when it leaves the machine,
  • control the command chain: choice of material, finishing level, colour, quantity, etc.
  • reduce the product launch time,
  • manage the product lifecycle (PLM - Product Lifecycle Management): the file is saved, 3D printing provides a view at all stages of modifications made to the file,
  • communicate: customers give greater value to a 3D prototype than to other, even realistic models,
  • reduce direct costs
  • also reduce indirect costs: drastic reduction in manufacturing time, logistics, storage and recycling methods, etc.
  • transpose their expertise to other sectors.