Formlabs have just announced the Fuse 1 — a selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printer that creates parts out of nylon. Formlabs is best known for their Form series of resin-based SLA 3D printers, and this represents a very different direction.
SLS printers, which use a laser to sinter together models out of a powder-based material, are not new but have so far remained the domain of Serious Commercial Use. To our knowledge, this is the first time an actual SLS printer is being made available to the prosumer market. At just under 10k USD it’s definitely the upper end of the prosumer market, but it’s certainly cheaper than the alternatives.
The announcement is pretty light on details, but they are reserving units for a $1000 deposit. A few things we can throw in about the benefits of SLS: it’s powder which is nicer to clean up than resin printers, and parts should not require any kind of curing. The process also requires no support material as the uncured powder will support any layers being cured above it. The Fuse 1’s build chamber is 165 x 165 x 320 mm, and can be packed full of parts to make full use of the volume.
In the past we saw a detailed teardown of the Form 2 which revealed excellent workmanship and attention to detail. Let’s hope the same remains true of Formlabs’ newest offering.
It’s tough times for 3D-printing. Stratasys got burned on Makerbot, trustful backers got burned on the Peachy Printer meltdown, I burned my finger on a brand new hotend just yesterday, and that’s only the more recent events. In recent years more than a few startups embarked on the challenge of developing a piece of 3D printing technology that would make a difference. More colors, more materials, more reliable, bigger, faster, cheaper, easier to use. There was even a metal 3D printing startup, MatterFab, which pulled off a functional prototype of a low-cost metal-powder-laser-melting 3D printer, securing $13M in funding, and disappearing silently, poof.
Filament style 3D printers are great, but typically are rather size limited. Laser sintering printers offer huge print beds, but also come with quarter million dollar price tags. What are we supposed to do? Well, thanks to OpenSLS, it might just be possible to turn your laser cutter into your very own SLS 3D printer.
The team has created the hardware to turn a laser cutter with a bed size of 60cm x 90cm into an SLS printer. The beauty? The majority of the hardware is laser cut which means you already have the means to convert your laser cutter into a 3D printer.
The design files are available on their GitHub. Hardware will likely cost you around $2000, which is peanuts compared to the commercial laser sintering printers. There is tons of info in their article — too much for us to cover in a single post. If you end up building one, please let us know!
Laser sintering works by laying down a thin layer of metal powder and then hitting it with a strong enough laser to sinter the particles together. (Sintering sticks the grains together without getting the metal hot enough to melt it.) The rapid local heating and cooling required to build up 3D objects expands and cools the metal, and can result in stresses inside the resulting object.
The Northwestern team still lays down layers of powder, but glues the layers together with a quick-drying polymer instead of fusing them with a laser. Once the full model is printed, they then sinter it in one piece in an oven.
The advantages of adding this extra step are higher printing speed — squirting the liquid out of syringe heads can be faster than fusing metal particles with a laser — and increased structural integrity because the whole model is heated and cooled at one time. A fringe benefit is that the model is still a bit flexible before firing, opening up possibilities for printing a flat model and then bending it into shape before sintering.
And if that weren’t enough, the team figured that they’d add a third step to the procedure to allow it to be used with rust (iron oxide) as the starting powder. They print the rust and polymer model, then un-rust the iron using hydrogen, and then fire it as before. Why rust? Do you know anything cheaper to use as a raw material?
What do you think? The basic idea may even be DIYable — glue metal particles together and heat them up enough to stick. Not in my microwave oven, though. We’d love to see a more energy-efficient 3D metal printer.
Almost exactly two years ago, news of a great revolution in 3D printing carried itself through blogs and tech columns. Patents were expiring, and soon the ‘squirting filament’ printers would be overtaken by a vastly better method: selective laser sintering. In the last two years, the market has been markedly silent on the possibilities of SLS technology, until now, at least. Today, Sinterit is launching their first printer. It’s an SLS printer that builds objects by fusing nylon powder with a laser, producing things with much better quality than filament-based printers.
The Sinterit Lisa is a true laser sintering printer, able to create objects by blasting nylon powder with a 5W laser diode. Inside this box that’s about the same size as a laser printer is a CoreXY mechanism to move the laser diode around, heated pistons, cylinders, feed bed and print bed for keeping the print volume at the right temperature and the top layer perfectly flat. The layer thickness of the printer goes down to 0.06 mm, and the maximum print size is 13 x 17 x 13 cm. Material choice is, for now, limited to black PA12 nylon but other materials are being tested.
Filament printers are here to stay, and in the past year there have been a number of SLA and DLP resin printers that can create objects at mind-boggling high resolutions. Both of these technologies have their place, but printing really complex objects without also printing supports is out of the question.
[Brandon] has been working to create an open source printer using a different technology, selective laser sintering. That’s a laser melting tiny particles of stuff to create an object. This printer can work with any material that can be turned into a powder and melted by a laser, and also has the neat bonus of printing without any supports.
[Brandon]’s printer, Ester, uses small meltable polyester dust as both a print material and support structure. The object to be printed is created by shining a laser over a bed filled with polyester, drawing one layer, and putting another small layer of material over the previous layer.
The machine is using a diode laser, with a few experiments with a 1 Watt diode providing some very nice parts. The mechanics of the machine were built at [Brandon]’s local TechShop, and already he has an IndieGoGo for future development and a $3000 development kit. That’s a bit expensive as far as project printers go, but SLS is an expensive technology to get right; ‘pro’ SLS printers are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unlike just about every other inexpensive 3D printer, [Andreas]’ design doesn’t rely on either squirting plastic onto a bed or curing liquid resin with UV light. Instead, a fine layer of powder is spread over a build platform and melted with a laser. The melted layer drops down, another layer of powder is applied, and the cycle repeats until the part is finished. It’s a challenge to build one of these machines, but [Andreas] had the great idea of retrofitting an off-the-shelf laser cutter, allowing him to focus on the difficult task of designing the powder and piston system.
It’s an extremely interesting project, and most of the custom parts are made from laser cut acrylic: easily cut to size on whatever laser cutter you’re retrofitting with 3D printing capability. There’s a lot of info over on the Wiki, and a few videos showing the sintering process and powder distribution below.
Oh. One last note. [Andreas] developed this while at [Jordan Miller]’s amazing lab at Rice University. There’s a lot of interesting things happening at this Advanced Manufacturing Research Institute, including bioprinting, DLP resin printers, and using inkjets for cell cultures. Check out this post for a great talk at the Midwest RepRap Festival.