Additive Manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is increasingly being used in a variety of industries, including education, manufacturing, robotics, automotive, aerospace, construction, architecture, dentistry, jewelry, and engineering. By bringing fabrication in-house, you can save considerably on costs and have more freedom to design prototypes and iterations.

In the beginning, understanding and separating the various 3D printing technologies, processes and materials can prove difficult for newcomers to 3D printing. Which 3D printing technologies are available to businesses? Taking a closer look at the five 3D printing technologies that are disrupting those industries above will help you understand the different types of 3D printing.

Composite 3D printing

Metal and composite 3D printing are poised to revolutionize additive manufacturing.


In Print Scanning/Process Inspection: You can use this feature to print your part, scan it, and measure its dimensional accuracy in real-time.


Stepper Motor Encoders: With these encoders on the X, Y, and extrusion motors, the printer can automatically correct position accuracy errors. Eventually, you’ll save more money because the problem can be corrected automatically and more prints can be saved. You will also get those stunning surface finishes with the encoders making sure the head is located exactly.


Material Detection: When the material runs out during the print, this feature will pause the process and send you an email notification. With reload, you can continue printing while adding new material.


Silent Drives: With silent drives, Markforged’s industrial 3D printers are able to perform 3D printing without making even a sound.


MicroController: Since X and Y offsets are already calibrated and stored on the print head, if you replace the printhead that contains the microcontroller, no calibration is needed. Using this tool, you can also detect and prevent faults before they occur and detect maintenance issues.


SLA (stereolithography)

Alternatively known as SLA, stereolithography is a 3D printing technique that utilizes light to cure liquid resin into solid plastic. Inverted Stereolithography is the most commonly used SLA system. The resin is usually poured manually by the user or automatically dispensed from a cartridge, depending on the 3D printer. Starting a print requires lowering the build plate into the resin. The bottom of the tank and build plate are separated by a thin layer of liquid. Through a translucent window located at the bottom of the resin tank, the UV laser is directed from the galvanometer or galvos to solidify the material selectively. Every subsequent layer begins with a print that has a micron thickness of fewer than 100 microns.

3D printers with SLA technology can produce parts with complex geometries and fine details with outstanding results. Most of the time, you will have to use support structures since the printed parts must be cleaned and then UV-cured, sometimes in an oven, before they can be used.

At first, SLA was only used on large machines for industrial applications in the 80s. In addition to being more affordable than ever before, desktop stereolithography 3D printers also offer you high-resolution 3D printing that easily fits into your workspace. The flexibility of SLA allows you to create products using an extensive range of materials, giving you an endless amount of creative freedom.

FFF (fused filament fabrication)

The most common additive manufacturing process is fused filament fabrication or FFF. Due to its ease of use, and since it does not use chemicals, it is cost-effective. A roll of thermoplastic filament is typically used for FFF, which is dispensed from a spool. A heated nozzle attached to an automated motion system is used to extrude the filament in Fused Filament Fabrication. While a part is being 3D printed, the motion system travels around the area where the part is to be printed. Melted filament is deposited from the nozzle onto the build plate as the motion system goes around. It takes a while for the filament to cool and harden into a layer. It takes less than a millimeter for the build plate to move, then one layer is added at a time until the part is fully formed.

Certain FFF 3D printers can print with two materials simultaneously using the Dual Extrusion feature. A typical aesthetic use of two different colors for the same material is to give it a more pleasing appearance. Variations in mechanical properties are achieved by using two different materials. Along with the build material, a water-soluble PVA support material can also be used. Submersion in water dissolves the support material, making the final part of the design appear high-quality while requiring minimal post-processing.

A 3D printer with FFF technology is perfect for office settings because the machines are relatively simple to operate and maintain. Contrary to SLA 3D printers, FFF printers will not require good ventilation to produce or post-process objects. As compared to other methods, FFF 3D printers offer a wide range of consumable options at a relatively low cost. Easy to set up, the consumables can be stored for years.

LFS (low force stereolithography)

This next generation of Stereolithography is called Low Force Stereolithography (LFS). Formlabs announced the Form 3 and Form 3L 3D printers in late 2019. These sophisticated 3D printers use linear illumination and the Formlabs Form 3 technology, combining a flexible tank to deliver an immaculate surface finish. Formlabs Form 3, for example, can deliver high-quality prints consistently because of the Low Force Stereolithography print process’ lower print forces. By easily tearing away light-touch supports, it can reduce the amount of time and effort required to build and maintain parts. You can then focus on everything else, like designing and creating.

Metal 3D printing

Metal 3D printing is one of the most advanced 3D printing processes available today. It’s an organized process that allows you to print and post-process ready-to-use parts in-house. In this process, you must:


Software part setup: The STL file generated by your CAD software needs to be imported into a software program. 3D printing can be done on a variety of metals. To compensate for material shrinkage, the parts are automatically scaled up.


Print: FFF printing uses a plastic-bound metal powder to print layers of metal until your part is fully formed.


Wash: Parts have to undergo a rebinding process after being printed. In this step, wax is removed from the part by washing it in a degreaser. As a result, it is ready for the next phase.


Sinter: This process is followed by interceding the part in a furnace to burn away all plastic connectors and allow the metal powder to fuse into a 3D part with a relative density of approximately 96%.


Final Part: Now, “pure” metal is used to make the part. In this state, it can be post-processed and treated just like any other metal.


Final thoughts

Each 3D printing technology has unique applications. SLA is great for smaller, detailed objects with complex features. An LFS machine is best suited for high-volume production that consistently produces high-quality results without requiring additional labor. Budget-conscious people will love FFF. Using this technology is easy, affordable, versatile, and convenient. It is easy to use, does not take up any additional space, and requires no professional staff to set up and operate it. The versatile 3D printing processes of composites and metals make them ideal for manufacturing heavy-duty parts by businesses.