EMS Explains the Different RP Technologies

3D Printing or 3DP is the fastest and most economical rapid prototyping process on the market today.  3DP with the Z Corp 3D Printer technology utilizes a high performance plaster composite powder and CMYK color binders to create full 24 bit color concept models. The Z Corp Z650 3D printers utilized by EMS deposit the binders at 600 x 540 DPI in the X & Y direction onto a bed of powder.  This process is repeated at a layer thickness of  0.0035” in the Z direction.  3DP is most commonly used for concept modeling, fit checks, ergonomics, presentation models, and architectural models.  Additional uses include vacuum forming and metal casting patterns.  Pro’s – very fast build time, lowest price process, 3D color, best value. Con’s – not as strong or flexible as other processes

Stereolithography (SLA) SLA rapid prototyping is one of the most widely utilized rapid prototyping processes in the RP industry. SLA uses a vat of liquid UV-curable photopolymer resin and a UV laser to build parts one layer at a time. The top of the line SLA machine ( i-Pro 9000XL) has the ability to make parts up to 59” long without bonding or gluing.  Numerous materials are available to simulate ABS and Polypropylene and other plastics. In addition, SLA is widely popular for its Somos Watershed XC 11122 optically clear material. SLA is a great process for concept models, master patterns and appearance models, and  medium to large thin walled parts.
Pro’s: very large parts can be done, very good resolution, many materials available
Con’s: Complex machines, expensive materials, average speed to build parts.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) SLS is an additive manufacturing process in which builds parts layer by layer using a powerful laser to fuse small particles of powder together.  SLS is most commonly known for it’s nylon 12 material available with glass, aluminum, and carbon filled blends making it popular for functional testing.   Also available is Duraform EX, which is commonly used to create living hinges. The unique materials available for selective laser sintering make it a great solution for functional testing as well as limited run production. SLS is most commonly recommended for the aerospace and medical industry because they are robust, accurate, and heat resistant.
Pro’s: very strong materials, ability to make living hinges, heat resistance
Con’s: Complex process and machines, expensive materials, some geometries can be a challenge

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) FDM is an a rapid prototyping process that extrudes plastic through a heated nozzle head one layer at a time. FDM materials come in a variety of blends and colors.   Most utilized materials included ABS, polycarbonate (PC), and Ultem 9085 – a heat resistant material. The surface finish is generally coarse, but can be smoothed chemically.  FDM, is most commonly use for functional testing without features smaller than .02”.
Pro’s: functional parts built in plastics
Con’s: slow build time, course surface finish.

Source: EMS-USA

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