If you’ve at least heard of one 3D printing technology, this one should be it, as it is the first 3D printing technology ever made. Invented in 1986 by Chuck Hull, Stereolithography, known as SLA or SL for short, utilises a method called Vat Polymerisation.
In simple terms, this method utilises a vat full of resin, which is hardened by a light source. This light source is directed carefully using two mirrors, one on the x-axis and the other on the y-axis to guide the laser and to harden the resins that come into contact with the light.
As a result, the model is built up layer by layer as the laser slowly traces them out, until the full model is complete. SLA is commonly used to make prototypes for many different use cases, such as a mould for dental applications, jewellery, and so on.
Fused Deposition Modelling
Also known as Fused Filament Fabrication, Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) uses a different method called Material Extrusion. If you’ve ever used a glue-gun, this method works similarly.
A filament of thermoplastic material is pushed through a hot nozzle, where it melts. The nozzle then moves around on a surface where the heated plastic is laid to harden and build up layer by layer until the final model is completed. Thanks to the wide variety of materials and colours for use, the final model can be custom-made according to different specifications and multiple applications.
Digital Light Processing
Digital Light Processing (DLA) is pretty much similar to SLA. The only difference here is that it doesn’t utilise a laser. Instead, it uses flashes of light that are aimed at the resin to form the model.
Using an array of tiny mirrors that help point the light to where it is supposed to be, the resin hardens at the right spots to form the model layer by layer. Because the light source is a digital screen, the layers are formed in blocks called voxels. That’s because the screen itself is made out of square pixels. Hence the layer is made up of tiny blocks.
As you may have realised, DLP’s process is much more efficient than that of SLA. Unlike the SLA process, where a laser slowly traces out a layer, DLP exposes the entire resin to light at once, forming the layer instantaneously. DLP is still used just like SLA for the same applications, although the finished product can have a much more delicate detail and a smoother finish.
As you can tell, these three 3D printing technologies are great at what they do, creating models and prototypes to help support the creation of a final product. However, they all share one critical weakness, and that is the printed model is quite brittle. This makes the model unusable for any mechanical processes, limiting them to general-purpose and simple models, so long as they aren’t used as mechanical parts.
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