The increasing awareness of the benefits of additive technologies and lower prices of 3D printers have significantly contributed to the popularization of 3D printing recently. Due to the availability of many methods of 3D printing on the market, choosing the best technology for a project may turn out to be quite a complicated matter. Manufacturing process planning should consider the technical capabilities of 3D printers available and, most of all, the properties of the materials to be used. The optimal selection and application of manufacturing technology for the project will guarantee the highest quality of the products manufactured and ensure the full benefits of the 3D printing innovation.
The most popular 3D printing methods now include, among others, HP Multi Jet Fusion, SLA/LFS, and FDM technologies. The common feature of the above-mentioned technologies is their ability to physically re-create a previously prepared 3D model using a precision additive method. However, each method has slightly different features that are definitely worth being considered. What to consider when choosing an additive technology? Which additive manufacturing method will be most appropriate for your project and why?
HP Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) Technology
HP’s patented Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) technology is one of the most versatile 3D manufacturing methods. The materials used in MJF are modern PA 11 and PA 12 polyamides and TPU elastomers. Due to their unique technical properties, the above materials ensure good detail reproduction as well as high mechanical integrity of the products manufactured. MFJ is now the most widely used additive technology in the automotive sector. This technology contributes to a significant reduction in operating costs and an increase in manufacturing efficiency. Manufactured products are also widely used in the healthcare industry, for example, as prostheses or customized dental forms. The method is used in the most modern HP printers, e.g., an HP Jet Fusion 3D 4200 model. The innovative technology guarantees reliability even during long-term and complex manufacturing processes.
SLA, or stereolithography, is the oldest 3D printing technology, developed in 1984. The method is to manufacture products by curing a fluid engineering material. Over time, SLA was developed into a modern variant of LFS (Low Force Stereolithography) with further improved parameters of products manufactured. The materials used include, but are not limited to, standard resins, castable resins, engineering resins, and dental resins. The excellent properties of the building materials ensure an extremely smooth surface finish, which significantly shortens the processing time. The SLA/LSF technology guarantees the highest precision of detail reproduction and advanced shape, as well as excellent dimensional accuracy. The method is ideal for the automotive, healthcare, and jewelry sectors. An advanced Formlabs Form 3 printer is a professional device using the SLA/LSF technology and characterized by high precision, reliability, and very high print speed.
FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) is a common and popular additive manufacturing method. The technology consists in an accurate layer-by-later deposition of plastics, following a computer-calculated print path. The main advantage of FDM is a wide selection of various multicolored materials, which means high versatility of the method and lower prototyping and manufacturing costs. The FDM technology is clean and non-toxic and guarantees reliability, as well as very high repeatability in production. FDM is used in the manufacturing of prototype models, molds, prostheses, and construction elements. The materials used in FDM are durable thermoplastics, such as ABS, ASA, PC-ISO, NYLON, PLA, and ULTEM. An example of a device using the FDM manufacturing method is a Stratasys Fortus 450 mc multi-material printer.
Which additive manufacturing technology to choose?
An analysis of the currently used 3D printing technologies reveals several similarities and differences between the various types of 3D printing. Common features of the above methods are remarkable precision, significant reduction in workload, and savings in money and time consumed during the manufacturing process. Numerous benefits make 3D printing ideal both as a complementary technology, used in addition to casting or milling, and as an independent method, enabling small series production of objects with complex or unusual shape.
Due to the high complexity of the additive manufacturing technology, it is worth relying on a conclusion of experienced specialists already at a planning stage. The specialists will conduct an individual analysis of a project and propose optimal solutions to guarantee the highest quality of manufactured models and total customer satisfaction with the results achieved.