Additive Manufacturing: Technologies and the Process

Additive Manufacturing is the process of using certain technologies to create physical 3D models by adding layer-upon-layer of depositing materials. But, what are the technologies available and how does it work?

Additive Manufacturing Technologies

AM encompasses many technologies – 23 to be exact – that can be used to make a physical 3D object. Some examples of the available technologies are:

Stereolithography (SLA) – It is a high-end technology utilizing laser beams to cure layer-upon-layer of a resin known as photopolymer. The properties of this resin change when exposition to light occurs. A laser beam is pointed into a pool of photopolymer, tracing the cross-section pattern of the model for that particular layer and curing it. The platform on which the build is positioned lowers by a single layer thickness, and this process is repeated until the completion of the model.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) – Similar to SLA, it uses a high-powered laser to fuse plastic, metal, ceramic or glass in powdered form. During the build cycle, the platform on which the model is positioned lowers by a single layer thickness. The process repeats until the completion of the model.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) – Involves using thermoplastic materials that changes to a liquid form upon the application of heat and becomes solid when cooled. The thermoplastic is injected onto a platform via indexing nozzles. These nozzles trace the cross-section pattern for each layer. Upon the hardening of the materials it moves on to apply the next layer.

The Additive Manufacturing Process

The AM process requires the use of:

  • a computer
  • CAD (computer-aided-design) software – used for design and technical documentation, replacing manual drafting.
  • machine equipment
  • layering material

In order to benefit from the full capabilities of AM technologies, it is necessary to use Design for Additive Manufacturing (DFAM) methods. DFAM is a technique to optimize the design of products for production with AM technologies. It takes into consideration the capabilities of the chosen technology to improve functional performance and crucial product life-cycle elements.

Once a 3D model is designed with the CAD software, there will be several options of file formats to save it. The most common file formats for 3D printing are:
.STL, is typically the format used with desktop 3D printers and supports only one colour.
.VRL, is a newer digital 3D file type which supports different colours.
.AMF, is a new XML-based open standard for 3D printing. It also contains support for different colours and can be compressed to about half the size of a STL file.

Currently, Beamler’s platform supports STL and OBJ files however we will add other options for uploading and downloading files to our platform in the near future.

The saved CAD file will be converted to g-code, a language that is used to instruct machines on how to perform a certain action. It contains commands that tell the 3D printer exact information regarding where to move, at what speed and temperatures so that it can lay down successive layers of the selected material in order to build the 3D object.

The main challenge for companies wanting to implement AM into their operations is to make the right decision. Beamler helps companies get ready for the future of manufacturing. We provide you with a detailed report about the technical and business feasibility of 3D printing solutions for your company. Make your decision to implement 3D printing based on data today, with us.