There are many different types of 3D printing available at HLH Rapid. One of the most used method is called SLA, or stereolithography, and it’s popular for a reason. Its high accuracy in printing details, fast build time, and other advantages make it ideal for companies who want to pursue rapid prototyping.
However, like most manufacturing methods, SLA isn’t perfect, nor is it appropriate for every application. That’s why in this article, we’re diving into the advantages and disadvantages of SLA rapid prototyping.
First, we’ll cover five important advantages of SLA rapid prototyping that may sway you toward utilizing this type of 3D printing.
The biggest advantage of SLA 3D printing for rapid prototyping is its ability to produce final details with high dimensional accuracy. This means that you can achieve a prototype that reflects all the details in your final plastic injection moulded product. It also means that a wide variety of industries can benefit from rapid prototyping with SLA, including medical, automotive, and consumer goods.
SLA offers a wide range of resin materials, including standard, engineering, and specialty resins. This versatility allows for the creation of functional parts with various material properties, including flexibility, transparency, and resistance to chemicals or high temperatures.
The SLA printing process prints objects layer by layer out of liquid resin and then cures (i.e., solidifies) those layers using a UV laser. Resin is available in different options, including standard, engineering, and specialty resins. While some may consider SLA resin as a limitation, in most cases, you’ll be able to find the right type to suit your prototyping needs.
SLA 3D printers can print complete, highly detailed prototypes in a single session, and the curing process is quick. The result is a faster build time than not just traditional manufacturing methods but also other additive manufacturing technologies like powder-based SLS or metal build DMLS.
One of the steps in the 3D printing process that often takes up a lot of time is tooling and sanding the ridges on the build once it’s finished. But the SLA process prints objects with a smooth finish. This smooth finish is valuable in applications where aesthetics matter, like consumer products or display models.
SLA excels at creating complex geometries, overhangs, and intricate structures with high precision. It’s well-suited for producing parts with intricate lattice designs, organic shapes, and internal channels, which may be challenging to achieve with other manufacturing methods.
As we mentioned earlier, SLA rapid prototyping may not always be the best option for your unique project. Consider these five disadvantages before you talk to an HLH Rapid expert about using SLA.
Parts made with SLA are not very strong and often tend to be brittle. This is mainly a disadvantage if you want to print a functional prototype that will be subject to high impact or building pre-production stage parts. For early stage prototypes, it often suffice.
When prototypes are printed using stereolithography, they require support structures. Support structures help the 3D-printed object keep its shape throughout the manufacturing process. Once the prototype is done printing, the support structures must be removed in post-processing, which can be time consuming.
The resins used in SLA are sensitive to light. This means that if they are left out in the sun for long periods of time, they will inevitably begin to degrade in appearance and strength. This often makes it not ideal for prototypes that will be subject to sunlight regularly or used for outdoor applications.
While SLA offers a variety of resin materials, it may not be suitable for all applications. Some resins are brittle and not suitable for parts requiring high impact resistance or flexibility. The available materials may also have limitations in terms of temperature resistance and chemical compatibility.
Another disadvantage of SLA resin prints is the material’s tendency to warp or curl. This is when the build gets distorted during the manufacturing process and comes out looking bent or rippled.
Often, the reason for warping or curling lies in the prototype design, which is why it’s absolutely essential that the design is as precise as possible. That can be an added challenge, however, for companies that are new to SLA and 3D printing in general. (Reach out to HLH Rapid for help with this step!)
To sum it up, SLA rapid prototyping is ideal for low volume projects where high precision detail, speed, and versatility in size and shape are your most important objectives. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a strong, long-lasting prototype in high volumes, you may want to look at our other 3D printing options.
If you have any questions about SLA rapid prototyping, feel free get in touch with our team.