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.
The team behind the Sinterit Lisa has come a long way in the few years they’ve been working on their project. The first prototype was a self-described ‘laser on a RepRap’, that would slowly build print layers up by melting plastic powder together. Along the way, they’ve tried multiple open-source slicing and control schemes, but found none would do the job; controlling a sintering machine is a very hard problem, with wicking of melted plastic and leveling of each print layer a high concern.
If there is one drawback to the Sinterit, it’s the price: it will ship in 2016 with a list price of $8000. This puts it in a strange middle ground, straddling the divide between high-end consumer-level printers such as the Lulzbot, Ultimaker, and the Form1, and the business-grade printers from 3D Systems and Stratasys.
It is, however, a true SLS printer, capable of producing objects with no supports, and multiple objects per print run, at that. While it’s still not the desktop printers that were ‘just around the corner‘ a few years ago when sintering patents expired, it is exactly as promised: a cheaper device for a very complex technology that will be accepted readily in businesses and design firms.