SLA 3D printing materials are amazingly versatile and can be used in various applications because of their many advantages.
Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing is known for its ability to offer highly accurate plastic parts with intricate features and smooth surface finishes. SLA materials include a wide variety of resins that have great utility in many different types of applications:
In this article, we discuss the most common SLA materials, as well as their applications and advantages. Before diving in, let’s consider a brief overview of these fantastic materials.
SLA 3D printing is a photopolymerization process that uses a UV laser to cure liquid resin into hardened plastic. The liquid resins utilized in SLA 3D printing include various blends of monomers, oligomers, photoinitiators, and other additives that result in different material properties based on the intended application of a given part or prototype. SLA resins provide smooth surface finishes, lots of rigidity, and the ability to create intricate details. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of SLA 3D printing materials and their applications.
Standard Resin. Standard resin offers rigid, high-resolution prints with a smooth surface finish. Standard resin is very affordable, which makes it an excellent option for rapid prototyping applications. One exciting aspect of standard SLA resin is that its color has some degree of bearing over its properties. For example, white resin is great for parts that demand a smooth surface finish, whereas gray resin is best for parts with intricate features.
Engineering resins can produce parts and prototypes similar to injection-molded plastic parts. It’s important to note that all engineering resins must undergo post-curing under UV light in order to obtain optimal mechanical properties.
Castable Resin Used to Make Jewelry. Castable SLA resins are excellent for 3D printing parts with intricate details and smooth finishes. Additionally, castable resins will burn out cleanly without leaving behind residue. These properties make castable resins great for use in producing small, intricate products such as jewelry.
SLA 3D printing produces highly isotropic parts. This isotropy is enabled by the ability to carefully control multiple key factors through the integration of material chemistry with the SLA process. Specifically, SLA resins form covalent bonds during printing, but the print stays in a semi-reacted “green state” from one layer to the next. During the green state, SLA resins maintain polymerizable groups which form bonds across layers. This ensures the part is isotropic upon final cure. This isotropy means that, at a molecular level, there is no variation across X, Y, or Z planes. Isotropy is beneficial because it gives parts more reliable mechanical properties for their intended applications.
SLA 3D printed parts and prototypes offer continuous surfaces no matter if the print has internal channels or solid features. This continuity ensures that SLA parts and prototypes are watertight for critical applications involving fluid or airflow. Examples of watertight applications include biomedical, automotive, and prototypes of consumer products such as kitchen appliances.
SLA provides the tightest tolerances of any 3D printing technology available on the market. One of the great advantages of SLA 3D printing is that its heated resin tank and contained build environment ensures near-identical conditions for each print. Moreover, SLA utilizes light instead of heat, which means the process occurs near room temperature. As a result, SLA parts and prototypes aren’t as affected by thermal contraction and expansion compared to other manufacturing methods. All of these characteristics of SLA lead to a high level of accuracy and repeatability.
SLA 3D printing is the leading additive manufacturing method for producing a smooth surface finish. In fact, surface finishes produced by SLA 3D printing are comparable to that of injection molding, CNC machining, and extrusion. These smooth surface finishes are also very beneficial for decreasing post-processing time. That’s because SLA prints have smooth surface finishes coming right out of the printer. With SLA, since the most recent layer printed interacts with the previous layer, the typical staircase effect found in other 3D printing methods is smoothed.
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