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There are fields and applications of 3D printing where consistent, real-world-like mechanical properties represent the most important, ultimate features.
In automotive, special machinery design, defense, medical, eyewear as well as consumer products development, having 3D printed parts with the same stiffness, torque resistance, ductility, elongation-at-break of the injection-molded or milled counterparts, is extremely important.
When it comes to polymers, only 3 technologies can answer these needs, each one with their own pros and cons: FDM, Binder Jetting/Fusion, and Selective Laser Sintering.
Binder Jetting / fusion
Selective Laser Sintering
The FDM term is usually associated with cheap 3D printers you can find almost everywhere online or at your local electronics shop. They are amateur or pro-user tools that are often fragile, with limited material choices and low accuracy.
But there are actually some high-end FDM printers that can deliver tough, high-temperature resistant parts with a high level of precision, and capable of print really big parts. A generally lower price point compared to other technologies is one of the factors that make these printers so interesting.
Lately we saw the rise of a new, somehow interesting powder-based technology, that uses printheads to deploy agents that react to heat, to selectively melt the agent-soaked powder and not the surrounding. This process can be considered a hybrid between laser sintering and a binder-jetting.
While usually very expensive, and with a not easy to determine cost of ownership, great productivity is the key feature of this technology.
A rock-solid 3D printing technology, profitably used in the most demanding environments from just prototyping to aerospace and everything between, that boasts a wide range of materials, from standard nylons up to high-performance materials like PA6, PBT and even PEEK.
Once definitely expensive, also thanks to Prodways, SLS® is now accessible even to the small and medium service bureaus, OEMs and R&D centers that need to overcome the limits of their FDM printers.