Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing process. As in, objects are built by adding material layer by layer. SLS 3D printing utilizes a laser to selectively sinter (heat and fuse) powdered nylon or nylon filled material into layers. This layer by layer approach allows for the fabrication of complex parts that have been impossible or cost prohibitive through traditional manufacturing methods. For example, SLS printed parts can have complex interior geometry, undercuts, and hinges that don't require post-production assembly.
It all starts with a 3D CAD file which is then broken down (sliced) into multiple 2D layers and uploaded into the system. A blade spreads the nylon powder creating a uniform thickness over a build platform. The laser goes to work rendering the first 2D layer, sintering it into a solid form. After the first layer is sintered, the build platform lowers, another powder layer is spread, and the laser sinters the second layer. This process repeats itself until the build is complete.
PROTOTYPE vs. PRODUCTION PARTS
SLS has been used as a prototyping tool for years for a good reason. SLS produces parts quickly that meet most if not all of the necessary characteristics of a production part. With other methods of prototyping to produce an item compromises are made that sacrifice appearance, cost, design, physical properties, and or dimension thresholds. Whereas, production parts are suitable for use and meet all the characteristics without compromise.
SLS produces parts on the timetable of prototypes but also meets all the characteristics of a production part. Advancements in materials and 3D printing machine technology have advanced SLS beyond just a prototyping method into a viable production part fabrication alternative.