What are Stereolithography (SLA) Printers?
Research in Stereolithography technology was started as early as in 1970s, but major breakthrough was made only in 1986. It is a form of 3D printing technology, coined by Charles W. Hull in the year 1986. He patented the process and finally established his own company 3D Systems for commercial production. The company enjoys the status of being the first 3D printing company. It is one of the many methods used in the 3D Printing industry.
In Stereolithography, a device known as Stereolithography apparatus (SLA) uses liquid plastic to create solid objects. SLA is also known as photo solidification, optical fabrication, raisin printing and photo solidification. You can design and print different types of prototypes and patterns using this 3D print technology.
How 3D Objects are Printed by SLA Printers?
SLA is an additive manufacturing process. It uses a stream of ultraviolet laser light source to create different types of patterns by focussing it over photopolymer resins to solidify. The SLA technology works on the concept of photo polymerisation. The technology is based on the fact that photopolymers sensitivity gets triggered under UV light source. In this technology, light source is used to link chains of molecules together. It creates polymers to form solid 3D objects.
A 3D object is printed with a layer by layer printing approach, whereby an object is designed by creating layer over layer designed on top of each other. This layering process is repeated unless and until the final prototype takes the desired shape. Today, we have a large variety of SLA printers available in the market, with lots of different printing methods, but the fundamental printing concept remains the same for all stereolithography printers.
Advantages of Stereolithography Printing
Biggest advantage of SLA printing is its rapid printing speed, because of which the technology is also known as rapid prototyping. Depending on the complexity of the design, you can 3D print an object in a few hours. Although, the printing time may also extend to more than a day for complex design patterns.
3D printed patterns are durable and strong enough to go through various machining process as in molding, casting and thermoforming. You can manufacture almost any conceptualised synthetic pattern using this 3D printing technology, based on your imagination and creativity. It can even create irregular shaped objects quite easily, which isn’t otherwise possible with many other traditional 3D printing methods.
Disadvantages of SLA Printing
Cost of SLA printers as well as the cost of photopolymer resins have been quite high as compared to some other 3D printing technology. Although, the cost of SLA printers as well as its raw material has reduced considerably in the last few years. Being the pioneers in the 3D printing industry, it has made some big advances in the 3D printing industry.
Some post processing is also required to improve the look and feel of the end prototypes created with SLA printers, considered as a disadvantage to stereolithography.
Applications and Scope of Stereolithography
Stereolithography has been an all time favourite of design professionals in large scale manufacturing industries. It is mostly used in high level consumer product industry, where quality and details are the top priority. Automotive industry, medical modeling, dentistry implants and jewellery designs are some of the hottest application areas for SLA printing technology. It is also employed in industries wherever creating intricate modeling design is the primary objective.
Recently, a Cambridge based startup named Formlabs have come up with a 3D desktop printer for home, which works on the concept of stereolithography. As the stereolithography technology is advancing, it is finding many more 3D printing applications in the commercial world.