Back in the 1980s, at the University of Texas in Austin, Dr. Carl Deckard and Dr. Joe Beaman developed and patented a manufacturing process called selective laser sintering (SLS). This was one of the first 3D printing technologies ever created, and over 30 years later, the technique is still being refined and advanced in a number of ways.
SLS 3D printing uses a high-powered laser to fuse powdered material together into a desired 3D shape. This professional-grade technology is ideal for both functional prototyping and small production runs, as it offers a high degree of design freedom, high accuracy, and exceptional mechanical properties.
Although SLS 3D printing was previously restricted to bulky and expensive machines, recent advancements have led to the development of more affordable and compact SLS machines. There are now a handful of desktop SLS 3D printers on the market, and even industrial-sized machines have become relatively inexpensive compared to traditional digital fabrication techniques.
The following section is the list of the best desktop and industrial SLS printers. They are sorted by price. If you want to learn about SLS 3D printing check out the other sections of this buyer’s guide.
Over the past few years, the SLS 3D printing market has been revolutionized by the emergence of desktop and benchtop-sized machines. Unlike their industrial counterparts, these compact 3D printers are much more accessible and affordable to prosumers and small businesses that might not have the money or space for an industrial SLS system.
Here are some of the best desktop SLS 3D printers on the market, along with a couple of highly anticipated machines that are still under development.
If you’re looking to cut costs on your upcoming 3D printer purchase, the price can usually be reduced if you settle on a DIY kit. This is certainly the case with the Sintratec Kit, a build-it-yourself 3D printer that is perhaps the most affordable option in the SLS category.
At just $5,350, this system presents itself as an ideal option for frugally-minded makers and prosumers that want to explore the possibilities of SLS 3D printing technology. Released back in 2014, the Sintratec Kit is the very first system manufactured by Sintratec. Although the price is quite low compared to other SLS machines, keep in mind that this is a kit in every sense of the word, and will take around four days to build and install.
The Sintratec Kit offers a 100 x 100 x 100 mm build volume and a minimum layer height of 50 microns, making it more than capable of producing complex geometries at a high resolution.
As one of the first-ever true benchtop-sized SLS 3D printers, the Sinterit Lisa has long been a front-runner in this growing market segment. Manufactured in Poland, this compact machine managed to make SLS 3D printing more accessible and affordable, while still maintaining the high print quality that makes the technology so valuable in the first place.
The Sinterit Lisa costs $6,990 on its own, but for $2,000 more, users can acquire the sandblasting and powder sieve as well. Aside from the relatively low price, another attribute that makes the Lisa so appealing is the intuitive user interface that simplifies the entire sintering process, breaking everything down step-by-step.
With a 150 x 200 x 150 mm build volume and a minimum layer resolution of 0.075 microns, this 3D printing system is ideal for prosumers and small businesses that want an introduction to SLS technology without having to invest too much capital in bulky equipment.
The Sinterit team has been working diligently to enhance its flagship 3D printer, recently unveiling the Sinterit Lisa Pro. This new and improved model includes a larger build volume and built-in nitrogen chamber. The Sinterit Lisa Pro is currently available for reservation, while the original model can be purchased below.
The Sintratec S1 is a desktop-sized SLS 3D printer, but don’t be fooled by the word “desktop.” This machine offers a surprisingly large build volume that can create parts measuring up to 130 x 130 x 180mm. Unlike the Sintratec Kit, the S1 comes mostly assembled and is better suited to produce functional prototypes and end-use parts.
Designed and manufactured in Switzerland, this system utilizes galvanometers to control the direction of the high-precision diode laser, which greatly increases the printing speed in comparison to other desktop SLS printers. In order to streamline the production workflow, the manufacturer has developed the intuitive Software Sintratec Central program, which includes step-by-step guidance and a user-friendly design that makes it easy to prepare 3D models for printing.
Priced around $23,699, the Sintratec S1 is clearly not geared toward the prosumer market. Instead, this compact machine is made for small businesses that want an SLS system without spending an exorbitant amount of money on a bulky and complicated 3D printer.
The Sharebot SnowWhite is unique in that it utilizes a CO2 laser (most other SLS 3D printers are equipped with a laser diode), giving it the ability to print with a wider range of materials, including PA 12, PA 11, TPU, and charged powders that contain additives like carbon fiber, glass, and aluminum.
Geared towards universities, research laboratories and small-to-mid-sized businesses, the SnowWhite is compact and incredibly easy to use. Priced at just under $40,000, this system is relatively expensive compared to other benchtop machines. It has a petite 100 x 100 x 100mm build volume, making it one of the smallest SLS 3D printer on the market.
While the cost of this machine might seem a bit high for a system that is so limited in size, the real value of the Sharebot SnowWhite lies in its ability to print with a variety of thermoplastic powders, enabling users to produce mechanically superior prototypes and end-use parts.
Although it hasn’t been released yet, this wouldn’t be a comprehensive SLS 3D printer guide without mentioning the highly anticipated Formlabs Fuse 1. Recognized for pioneering desktop SLA 3D printing, Formlabs announced last year that it would enter the SLS market with a benchtop-sized printer equipped with industrial power.
Starting at $9,999, the Fuse 1 is being marketed as a highly intuitive and reliable machine that is twenty times less expensive than industrial SLS systems. For $19,999, users will get the full package, including a post-processing station for material recovery, an extra build piston to streamline usage, and an initial material load.
The Formlabs Fuse 1 was initially expected to start shipping to customers in Spring 2018, but it seems like the product development team is still working out the final kinks. Nonetheless, judging by the success of the Form 2, we fully expect this SLS 3D printer to shake up the market once it finally arrives.
Back in 2017, the Barcelona-based manufacturer Natural Robotics launched a Kickstarter campaign for the VIT, an affordable and sleekly designed desktop SLS 3D printer. After raising over $300,000, the company has been working to finish up and ship out the first batch of machines to early backers.
Once these pre-orders are satisfied, the Natural Robotics VIT will be made available for €11,000 (around $12,900 USD). The manufacturer claims that this benchtop SLS system will offer a 250 x 250 x 300mm build volume, a print speed of 20mm/h, and a layer resolution of 0.05mm.
Natural Robotics also seems to be developing a cleaning and recycling station to go along with the SLS 3D printer. Both the printer and the additional accessories are expected to be released to the public sometime in the first quarter of 2019. On top of that, the VIT will come with technical support and an optional maintenance plan to ensure that the hardware stays in optimal condition.
As with any Kickstarter campaign, it’s important to take any proposed features and release dates with a grain of salt. But we can’t help but get excited by the prospect of having another highly intuitive and affordable SLS 3D printer enter the market. We’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on the Natural Robotics VIT.
One of the lesser-known but equally intriguing options in the desktop SLS sector is the Russian-manufactured RED ROCK 3D. Made from high-precision CNC machined parts, this 3D printer offers a 180 x 180 x 180 mm build volume, a layer thickness of 100 microns, and a print speed of 20 cm³/h.
The RED ROCK 3D has a suave red and black design, along with an intuitive 5-inch touchscreen that makes this machine user-friendly. This SLS 3D printer might not have the pedigree of others on the list, but it’s interesting to see how new faces are surfacing on the growing SLS 3D printing market.
While a flurry of benchtop-sized SLS machines have recently entered the market, most SLS systems are still confined to the industrial world. Here are a few of the best SLS 3D printers made for industrial use.
The ProMaker P1000 SLS 3D printer by Prodways is an industrial machine that offers high precision and a sizable 300 x 300 x 300 mm build platform. First unveiled in 2016, the French manufacturer has continued to build off of the P1000 to create an extensive line of SLS additive manufacturing systems.
What sets the ProMaker P1000 apart from other industrial SLS machines is a variety of innovative features, including a ten-zone heating system and intelligent temperature control that enables the production of mechanically superior parts. Another aspect promoted by the manufacturer is high precision capabilities, using a fine laser beam and digital galvo scanning system to achieve a high-quality surface finish.
Alongside the 10 different industrial SLS 3D printers now offered by Prodways is a plethora of powder materials, some of which are certified for medical and aeronautical use. In addition to these materials, the ProMaker P1000 is also compatible with third-party materials, granting users with the freedom to utilize powders outside of the manufacturer’s ecosystem.
Manufactured by the German industrial 3D printing pioneer, the EOS Formiga P 110 is a first-rate laser sintering 3D printer that offers flexibility and cost-effective production to the manufacturing floor. With a 200 mm x 250 mm x 330 mm build envelope and layer thickness of 60 microns, this 3D printing system is ideal for manufacturing small components with complex geometries.
EOS has continued to enhance its SLS product line with improved temperature management and software control, making the Formiga P 100 their most reliable SLS 3D printer yet. It also has a precise laser spot with a small focus diameter that enables a wall thickness of less than a half millimeter. Flexibility is a key attribute of this additive manufacturing system, as it’s compatible with nine polymer materials and 10 combinations of materials and layer thicknesses.
Manufactured by the additive manufacturing industry veteran 3D Systems, the ProX SLS 6100 is an SLS 3D printing system that is geared toward the automotive, aerospace, healthcare, and consumer goods sectors. It has a 381 x 330 x 460 mm build envelope, which is exceptionally large for a printer that is using SLS technology.
Released in November 2017, 3D Systems coupled the ProX SLS 6100 with a range of new DuraForm ProX SLS materials, which consists of PA 12, PA 11, as well as nylon powders filled with carbon fiber, glass, and aluminum. While the high price is certainly not suited for prosumers or hobbyists, this additive manufacturing system does present itself as a cost-effective option for industrial applications.
Of course, you don’t have to buy an SLS 3D printing system in order to obtain SLS 3D printed parts. Another more economical and easier way is to employ a professional 3D printing service to do the work for you. Service bureaus like Shapeways, i.Materialise, Sculpteo, Protolabs, and many others have industrial SLS 3D printers and 3D printing experts on-site, ensuring that your part is printed in the most optimal way.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there is one difficult aspect of utilizing a 3D printing service: sifting through all of the options to find the best price and print quality available. That’s why All3DP created the 3D Printing & Price Comparison Service, an easy-to-use platform that shows you prices from leading professional 3D printing services located across the globe. The mission of this service is to help our readers find the best possible price for their prototyping and production needs.
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing process that is classified as a powder bed fusion technique. Using a high-powered laser, SLS 3D printing works be selectively sintering particles of a polymer powder, fusing them together in a layer-by-layer fashion until a 3D design is fabricated.
Traditionally engineered to sinter with plastic materials, the process has since been adapted to work with metals, glass, and other composite materials. All of these techniques are categorized as powder bed fusion, a term that is used to describe additive manufacturing processes that use thermal energy to selectively fuse parts from a powder bed.
Typically used in professional and industrial settings, SLS 3D printing is ideal for producing functional prototypes and small production runs. Compared to processes like FDM or SLA, this powder-based method offers higher design freedom, higher accuracy, and all-around better mechanical properties.
The earliest SLS 3D printing systems were industrial in every sense of the word, usually bulky, expensive, and difficult to operate. However, we’ve seen an influx of affordable desktop and benchtop-sized machines arise on the market, making this once restricted technology more accessible to prosumers and small businesses.
In essence, the SLS 3D printing process begins by heating the powder bin and build area right below the polymer’s melting temperature. A recoating blade is utilized to spread a thin layer of powder across the build platform.
Next, a CO2 laser scans the contour of the next layer and sinters the particles of the powder. To ensure that the part is completely solid, the entire cross-section of the desired component is scanned. Once a layer is complete, the build platform moves downward and the blade recoats the surface with a clean spread of powder. This process is repeated until the part is complete.
Once the printing process is finished, there’s a fair amount of post-processing that follows. While removing the component, you’ll find that the solid 3D printed part is encapsulated inside of the unsintered powder bed. The bin has to cool down before the part can be unearthed, and this cooling process can take around 12 hours.
After the part is removed from the build chamber, it will be cleaned with a compressed air station or some other form of blasting technique. The unsintered powder that is left over from the print process can be collected and recycled during the next print job.
When used properly, SLS 3D printing offers a number of advantages over other digital fabrication techniques. Whether this technology is best-suited for your specific prototyping or production needs depends on the application, the design of the part, and the required material.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the pros and cons of SLS 3D printing…
As with any manufacturing process, there are key advantages and disadvantages to SLS 3D printing. As various advancements continue to refine the technology, many of the traditional limitations are being eliminated. Nonetheless, there are various obstacles that should be addressed before you decide to invest in an SLS machine.
Here are the general benefits and limitations of SLS 3D printing:
The most commonly used material for SLS 3D printing is Polyamide 12 (PA12), known more simply as Nylon 12. Other thermoplastic powder materials like Polyamide 11 and PEEK are also compatible with this technology, though they are of less prominence compared to PA12.
To help enhance the mechanical and thermal properties even further, a polyamide-based powder can also be mixed with certain additive materials, such as carbon fiber, glass fiber, and aluminum. However, these additives tend to make the material more brittle and prone to highly anisotropic behavior.
Here’s an overview of the most popular SLS 3D printing materials that are being used today:
As we mentioned above, Polyamide 12 (or Nylon 12) is by far the most commonly used SLS 3D printing material. It typically offers exceptional mechanical and thermal properties, as well as resistance to various chemicals. Parts made with PA 12 also tend to have long-term stability, making it ideal for functional prototypes and end-use parts. Certain Polyamide 12 materials are biocompatible and food-safe under certain conditions. Typically, SLS prints made from this powdered material have a matte, rough surface that requires post-processing.
Polyamide 11 (PA 11) offers higher elasticity and fully isotropic behavior. Although the mechanical properties are comparable to PA 12, this formulation usually has a lower environmental impact as it is made from renewable raw materials derived from vegetable oil. It also offers improved thermal and chemical resistance. PA 11 also remains stable in light, UV, and weather. It typically comes in the form of a fine, black powder.
As a flexible and strong material, TPU powders are ideal for prototypes and end-use parts that require elasticity. This thermoplastic elastomer offers rubber-like flexibility and a high degree of functionality. TPU materials typically offer resistance to wear and tear, along with a high-quality surface finish and details. Common applications include seals, gaskets, hoses, grips, toys, and more.
In some instances, nylon powder can be mixed with certain additives to enhance the overall mechanical properties of the 3D printed part. One popular SLS 3D printing material is carbon fiber-filled nylon, which as you can guess, consists of Nylon powder and carbon fibers. This material offers an exceptional weight-to-strength ratio and stiffness. However, it does tend to be highly anisotropic, which means that the material properties will vary depending on the direction they are measured.
For SLS 3D printed parts that offer high tensile strength and resistance to wear and temperature, glass-filled nylon has emerged as a viable option. Similarly to carbon fiber-filled nylon powder, glass-filled nylon could also display anisotropic behavior. These materials typically feature anywhere from 10 – 40 percent glass powder, the amount of which will impact the strength and brittleness of the SLS material.
Polyamide powder can also be mixed with aluminum powder to create an SLS 3D printing material that has a metallic appearance and a high degree of stiffness. This material can be used to produce non-porous components that are resistant to high temperatures and can be easily machined. Aluminum-filled nylon, also known as Alumide, is well-suited for automotive parts, wind tunnel testing, small production runs, and more.
As we mentioned, SLS 3D printing is ideal for creating complex functional prototypes and end-use parts. When looking at rapid prototyping as a whole, the SLS process is equipped to handle proof of concept prototypes, design evaluation models, product testing, design verification, wind tunnel test models, and more.
To give you a better idea of the industries that are adopting this technology into the production workflow, here are some of the most common SLS 3D printing applications:
License: The text of "2019 SLS 3D Printer Guide – All You Need to Know" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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