3D Printing Fully Functional Parts with Selective Laser Sintering

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an industrial-grade 3D printing process. It builds durable nylon prototypes and functional parts using a laser that “draws” slices of a CAD model in a bed of material, fusing micron-sized particles one layer at a time. The result is fully functional plastic parts that might have been otherwise challenging to manufacture using machining or injection molding.
This month’s tip discusses:

  • Properties and applications of various nylon materials
  • Managing the SLS build process
  • Design elements to improve eventual moldability
  • Surface finishes and post-processing
  • Maximum part size, achievable tolerances and other considerations.

Read the full design tip here.

EYE ON INNOVATION: Regrowing Damaged Nerves Using 3D Printing Technology

A national team of researchers has developed a 3D-printed guide or pathway that helps regrow complex injured or damaged nerves, and successfully tested the guide in rats.

Researchers say that this groundbreaking research holds the potential to help more than 200,000 people annually who experience nerve injuries or disease. The researchers are from the University of Minnesota, Virginia Tech, University of Maryland, Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University. The team’s study was published this month in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Image courtesy of Michael McAlpine, University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

Researchers used a combination of 3D imaging and 3D printing techniques to create a custom silicone guide or pathway implanted with biochemical cues to help nerve regeneration. Continue reading

TIPS WITH TONY: Fine-Tuning Your Additive Resolution

When you’re watching an epic movie filled with sweeping cinematography, you probably want the highest on-screen resolution possible with, say, a Blu-ray disc or high-definition stream. But if your children are watching old Disney movies in the playroom while arguing with each other over Legos, a standard picture from a classic DVD will probably suffice. The point: Don’t overpay for something that isn’t really necessary.

Normal resolution.

Normal Res
The same thought can be applied during 3D printing when you’re prototyping with stereolithography (SL). Proto Labs uses three resolutions that range in cosmetics and functionality. Normal resolution (NR) provides the lowest cost, but lacks fine detail. With NR you get a layer thickness of 0.004 in. with a minimum feature size of 0.010 in. — but that might be all you need in early prototyping.

High resolution.

High Res
If your part requires an elevated level of precision, there’s high resolution (HR). Here, you get a layer thickness (0.002 in.) and minimum feature size (0.004 in.) half of NR. It costs more, but the boosting the part quality may be well worth it depending on your intended application.

Micro resolution.


Micro Res
You can even step up to a higher level of precision, which most manufacturers are unable to provide. Micro resolution (MR) — the Blu-ray of additive resolutions, if you will — can provide optimal part detail on the smallest of part features. With MR, you get a layer thickness of 0.001 in. and minimum feature size of 0.002 in. Yes, that is an actual life-sized ant (not an evil oversized ant) atop a microscopic chess board. You can even see the staircase inside the rook!

Continue reading

How Digital Manufacturing is Changing the Industry Forever

Our current issue of the Proto Labs Journal looks at the convergence of complex software and automated hardware bringing rise to the digital age of manufacturing. Follow the thread of a 3D CAD model from upload to digital analysis to final part, and the massive compute cluster that’s powering it all.

Along with our cover story, read about leveraging low-volume injection molding, the latest in innovative technology we’ve mined from the Internet  and new service offerings at Proto Labs.

Read the full Journal now.

Why Stereolithography is Built for Prototyping

Stereolithography (SL) is an established additive manufacturing process that can quickly and accurately create complex prototypes. Parts are built by curing paper-thin layers of liquid thermoset resin with an ultraviolet (UV) laser that draws on the surface of a resin to turn it from a liquid to solid layer. As each layer is completed, fresh, uncured resin is swept over the preceding layer and the process repeated until the part is finished.

SL offers a range of plastic-like materials to choose from with several types of polypropylene, ABS and glass-filled polycarbonate available. Normal, high and micro resolutions are achievable at Proto Labs, meaning very fine details and cosmetic surfaces are possible. As a result, minimal “stair stepping” is seen compared to printed parts such as fused deposition modeling (FDM).

SL parts can also be built to a max size of 29 in. by 25 in. by 21 in., giving it the edge over other additive processes like selective laser sintering (SLS).

Our latest design tip looks at these and other manufacturing considerations for the stereolithography process.