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Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D Printing

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Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D Printing

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a commonly used powder-based additive technology to create models, prototypes and end-use parts in durable, engineering-grade thermoplastics. Consider SLS technology for applications that involve high-complexity and organic geometries, as well as parts requiring durability. SLS nests in the z direction which allows for short-run production and efficient builds. The technology is also capable of producing parts with finer details than most processes that use high-strength plastics. The composition is one of the more isotropic available from additive manufacturing.

How does SLS Technology Work?

SLS uses a blade to spread a thin layer of powder over the build volume. A laser sinters the cross-section of the part, fusing the powder together. The z stage then drops one layer and the process begins again until the build is finished. Parts are then excavated from the build powder-cake and bead blasted. The unused powder in the build envelope acts as the support structures, so no support removal is necessary.

SLS 3D Printed Parts and Images 

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SLS Materials Available

Here is a list of materials available for SLS printing with Fathom.

SLS MATERIALS LEAD TIME OPTIMAL QUANTITY MAXIMUM DIMENSIONS SUGGESTED MINIMUM WALL THICKNESS FINISH & APPEARANCE ADVANTAGES & CONSIDERATIONS
TPU 88A 2+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: White
Medium/High Resolution
High Detail & Complexity
Dye Available (Black, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, and Pink)
High elasticity, rebound and resistance to fatigue
Water-tight down to 0.6mm wall thickness
High burst pressure
True thermoplastic polyurethane providing excellent flexibility and durability
Nylon PA12 (White) 2+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: White
Medium/High Resolution
High Detail & Complexity
Dye Available (Black, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, and Pink)
Nearly Isotropic
Parts Built Without Supports, Allowing for Complex Geometries
Durable Production Quality Thermoplastic
PA 12 Glass Bead 3+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: Off White
Medium/High Resolution
High Detail & Complexity
Dye Available** (Black, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, and Pink)
High rigidity
Resistant To Wear & Tear
Thermally Resilient
PA 11 3+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: White
Medium/High Resolution
High Detail & Complexity
Dye Available (Black, Red, Blue, Green, Orange, Yellow, and Pink)
High Impact Resistance & Elongation At Break
Higher Temperature Resistance Than PA 12
Does Not Splinter Under Load
PA 11 Fire Retardant 4+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: White High Ductility Combined With Strength
Flame-Retardant Properties Are Similar To ULTEMTM Filament
Carbon-Filled Nylon 11 4+ Days Prototypes, Low-Volume, Short-Run Production 320mm x 320mm x 610mm 1mm Standard Color: Dark Grey High Strength Combined With Increased Impact Resistance & Elongation At Break Electrostatically Dissipative

*Geometry Dependent
**Filled Nylons Can Have Inconsistent Color When Dyed

Nylon is the most common material used for selective laser sintering. Its strength and flexibility make it a popular choice for engineering. Polyamide is another common material used in SLS that is strong, flexible, impact-resistant, abrasion-resistant and biocompatible.

Applications of SLS 3D Printing

Numerous industries, designers and engineers have used SLS printing. While SLS can be used for prototyping, it is also used for functional parts, testing and production parts. Applications of selective laser sintering include:

  • Consumer goods: SLS 3D printing has been used for consumer goods in the medical, footwear and beauty industries.
  • Sports: SLS has been used by motorsports companies to innovate vehicle design to increase performance.
  • Aerospace: Airline companies are incorporating lightweight SLS 3D parts on their aircraft including air vent grills and other cabin components.
  • Tooling production: Jigs, fixtures and other tooling
  • Snap fits and living hinges
  • Housings

Advantages of SLS 3D Printing

The benefits of SLS include:

  • Functional parts and prototypes
  • No support material needed
  • Fast process
  • Pieces with complex geometries
  • Good for small to medium batches
  • Good isotropic mechanical properties
  • Great for layer adhesion
  • Reuse unused material
  • Dye different colors

What is the Difference Between SLS and SLA?

Stereolithography and selective laser sintering are both additive manufacturing processes. Stereolithography (SLA) is a 3D printing method that uses both a UV laser and a resin that can be cured by UV light. A single laser is directed to specific areas to cure the resin and create a solid pattern. SLA is popular because it can print parts with greater precision than traditional fuse deposition modeling machines. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is another 3D printing process that uses a laser to melt, sinter, or fuse together particles, which result in a 3D part. SLS printers are commonly used for plastic, metal and ceramics. These materials are usually in powdered form. SLS does not require support as the unsintered powder around the part provides support. SLS has a broader range of materials available.

There are a number of differences between SLA and SLS. Selective laser sintering machines use a very powerful laser and as such, they are entirely encased, blocking the view of the part as it is printed. SLA machines are typically enclosed in tinted glass or plastic, which allows the operator to view the part as it is built.  SLS does not use toxic resins and the powdered material is considered easier to work with. Objects made by SLA machines are complex and detailed but can be brittle. SLS parts are not as detailed but still complex and are considered suitable for mechanical use.

SLS vs. SLM

Selective laser melting (SLM), sometimes referred to as direct metal laser melting (DMLM), uses a laser to melt metallic powders in successive layers. The machine fully melts the powder before another bed of powder is added above the melted layer. SLM causes the metal granules to melt together to form one homogeneous piece fully. The primary difference between stereolithography and selective laser melting is the materials used for each process. SLS can be applied to plastics, glass and ceramics, whereas selective laser melting is used exclusively for metal alloys.

Selective Laser Sintering Questions Answered 

Q: Should SLS only be used for prototypes?

A: No. SLS parts can be used as production parts.

Q: What terms are interchangeably used for selective laser sintering?

A: While selective laser sintering (SLS) is its own unique process, other terms used include 3D printing, SLS manufacturing, SLS prototyping, 3D prototyping, additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, laser sintering and more.

Q: During which stage of product development can SLS be used?

A: SLS is suitable for any stage of product development, from a functional prototype, a single-use part, or to create operational pieces.

Q: Who invented SLS?

A: The SLS concept was originally created in the1980s by Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman from the University of Texas. In 1992, the first industrial SLS printer (DTM Sinterstation 2000) was commercialized. Later, EOSINT P350 by EOS was launched in 1994.

Why Choose SLS 3D Printing?

Selective laser sintering has become popular amongst designers and engineers for many reasons. SLS allows for higher productivity, lower cost per part and design flexibility.

  • Higher productivity: Multiple parts can be produced at the same time, which maximizes the build space of each SLS machine. Minimal clearance is used between parts. The laser used during SLS has a quick scanning speed faster than other processes. Additional parts can be added to the build while it is already in production.
  • Lower cost per part: Nylon is the most common material to use for SLS printing and it is one of the least expensive when used in larger quantities. There are additional cost savings since the leftover powder can be reused, support structures are not required, and post-processing in SLS is less labor intensive.
  • Design flexibility: Since SLS does not require support structures, there is an opportunity to produce parts with complex geometries, moving parts and pieces with interior components. SLS is also capable of printing a part that would usually require multiple elements as a single unit. This capability both improves the design, saves the design and results in a part that weighs less.

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Comprehensive Capabilities for Rapid Manufacturing

At Fathom we offer a unique advantage of speed and agility-our experts help companies go from concept to prototype to manufacturing in ways not previously possible. 

3D Printing / Additive Manufacturing
90+ Machines  
SLS / / Two-day  SLA / / Next-day 
FDM / / Next-day DMLS / / Three-day 
PolyJet / / Same-day MJF / / Two-day
Injection Molding

30 Second Quotes

Prototype Tool / / As soon as 10 days

10K Parts / / 10 days

Production Tool / / As soon as 3 weeks

CNC Machining

3 & 5 Axis Milling & Turning
(Plastics, Composites and Metals)

Tolerance Accuracy Range
from +/-0.001″ to 0.005″

Urethane Casting

Injection Molding Adjacent
without High Costs of Metal Tools

Most Commonly Used for High-Volume
Prototyping & Bridge to Production

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