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What Xometry’s polymer AM technologies bring to the table

Design rules for 3D printing using MJF, SLS, SLA, Carbon DLS and more

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Xometry UK is a major on-demand manufacturer, supplying both custom and serial production parts to clients across the country. The company has a broad production offering, ranging from traditional manufacturing processes, such as CNC machining and injection molding, to advanced manufacturing processes, like polymer and metal 3D printing. In its portfolio of polymer additive manufacturing technologies, the company currently offers six production processes, each of which has its benefits and limitations, as well as its own design rules. We’ll be looking at each of these technologies, highlighting their technical capabilities, like minimum feature size and wall thickness, compatible materials, as well as post-processing solutions.  

Xometry design guide 3D printing

Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)

Developed and commercialized by HP, Multi Jet Fusion is a polymer 3D printing technology that leverages an inkjet array to fuse powder particles together. The process is known for its rapidity compared to other PBF technologies, as it can print multiple parts at once across the entire build surface. MJF is also known to print dense parts with near isotropic properties.

Like SLS, MJF does not require the use of supports, which can speed up post-processing. As-printed parts (which have simply undergone depowdering) are characterized by a matte finish and slightly rough texture (likened to a sugar cube), however Xometry clients can choose from a range of post-processing treatments, including vapor smoothing, dyeing and spray painting. Different color finishes can also be achieved directly in the MJF process using the full-color CB PA 12 material. Other material options include rigid polymers like PA 11, PA 12, glass-filled PA 12, full-color CB PA 12 and PP, as well as flexible TPU. MJF is ideal for small parts and has various applications, from functional prototyping to small-to-medium series production.

Xometry MJF Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 380 x 284 x 380 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 0.5 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 0.6 mm (supported)
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.2 mm
  • Lead time: 3 days

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

Selective laser sintering (SLS) is among the most common polymer 3D printing technologies today, offering consistent and high-quality prints for a range of applications. The process has been commercialized by a number of hardware companies and is characterized by the use of a laser beam, which selectively fuses powder particles one layer at a time. SLS parts do not require support structures, as the bed of powder functions as the support, which opens up many complex design opportunities.  

Xometry has a broad network of vetted production partners across the UK, which enables it to offer short lead times for SLS parts (just 3 days). Customers can also benefit from various post-processes, including media blasting, vapor smoothing, bead blasting and dyeing. While SLS is limited in terms of materials compared to other printing processes, such as FDM, it is compatible with a wider range than MJF. For instance, Xometry offers eight rigid materials, including PA 11, PA 12, glass-filled PA 12, aluminum-filled PA 12 (Alumide), flame-retardant PA 12, food-grade PA 11 and PA 12 and PP. For applications that require flexibility there is Flex TPU. Overall, SLS is a scalable process that is well suited to small-to-medium-sized components.

Xometry SLS Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 340 x 340 x 605 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 0.5 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 0.6 mm (supported)
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.3 mm
  • Lead time: 3 days 

Carbon Digital Light Synthesis (DLS)

Xometry Carbon DLS part
3D printed component made using Carbon’s DLS technology

Carbon Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) is a VAT polymerization process developed by Carbon that leverages digital light projection, liquid resins and oxygen-permeable optics to print isotropic parts with tight tolerances. The technology, which is highly scalable, has been particularly popular for printing rubber-like materials (EPU 40 and SIL 30), whose properties can be tuned through the use of lattice structures. The platform is also compatible with rigid materials, like epoxy resin (EPX 82), DPR 10, RPU 70, UMA 90, cyanate ester (CE 221) and the semi-rigid FPU 50. 

This additive manufacturing technology does require the use of supports for angles over 40 degrees and bridges, however, post-processing requirements are minimal. Unless a custom finish is specified, Carbon DLS parts must simply undergo cleaning, support removal and sanding on surfaces where supports were removed. This results in a matte to semi-gloss finish. Generally, Xometry recommends Carbon DLS for end-use applications, including low-volume, high-mix and mass production.

Xometry Carbon DLS Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 188 x 117 x 325 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 0.5 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 1 mm 
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.1 mm
  • Lead time: 5 days 

Stereolithography (SLA)

Known for its high-resolution and ability to print fine features, stereolithography (SLA) is a widely used 3D printing technology across many industries, from medical and dental to industrial manufacturing. The process uses a UV light to selectively cure layers of a photopolymer resin. Xometry clients looking to print small-sized parts with tight tolerances and very smooth finishes without extensive post-processing can benefit from SLA. In terms of post-processing for SLA, Xometry lightly sands supported surfaces, with optional media blasting, and offers a clear coat to enhance the appearance of transparent resins.

Xometry has over a dozen SLA resins materials in its portfolio, including rigid ABS-like, PC-like and PP-like resins available in various colors and versions, as well as flexible 80A (a silicone-like material) and true silicone. While material availability is more limited than thermoplastic-based processes like FDM, SLA is a strong contender when high precision is a requirement. In terms of production scale, Xometry recommends SLA for rapid prototyping and low-volume production.

Xometry SLA Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 736 x 635 x 533 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 0.2 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 0.4 mm (supported)
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.15 mm
  • Lead time: 7 days 

PolyJet

Developed by Stratasys, PolyJet is a photopolymer jetting process capable of multi-material and full-color printing, making it a unique solution amongst Xometry’s polymer AM services. The advanced technology is also known for its high speed capabilities and high-quality surface finishes (requiring minimal post-processing). Due to the nature of the process—which uses inkjet heads to deposit photopolymer droplets onto a build surface that are then cured using UV light—supports are required, however, water-soluble photopolymers can be used for easy support removal. 

Xometry offers a single build material for its PolyJet printing services, Rigid Photopolymer, that is available in three colors (black, gray and white). This means that material options are far more narrow than other 3D printing processes, which can limit applications. While the technology has good tolerances, it has larger minimum feature sizes than other polymer AM technologies. The technology is ideal for prototyping (particularly visual prototypes) and small-batch production, as printed parts have a smooth surface with matte to semi-gloss finish.

Xometry PolyJet Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 490 x 391 x 200 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 1.2 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 1 mm
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.05 mm
  • Lead time: 7 days 

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

Xometry plastic 3D printing services
Sample parts 3D printed on FDM platform using PLA material.

The most widely used 3D printing technology, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is an extrusion-based process capable of building parts of a wide variety of sizes and geometries. The process also offers the greatest range of different materials, from low-cost materials like PLA, to industrial-grade thermoplastics like PEEK. This makes FDM viable for functional prototyping, custom parts and low-volume production.

In addition to the aforementioned thermoplastics, Xometry offers a broad selection of materials for FDM, including ABS-based filaments, ASA, PA 12, carbon-filled PA 12, PC-based filaments, PETG, ULTEM 9085 and more. The process does require the use of supports for angles above 45 degrees, as well as horizontal bridges. Post-processing for FDM is minimal at Xometry, simply consisting of support removal, and fine layer lines are visible on the part’s surface. Ultimately, FDM has the potential to be the most economical 3D printing process (thanks to the use of infill and variable layer thickness) and is well suited for medium or large-scale functional parts.

Xometry FDM Specifications:

  • Maximum build area: 914 x 610 x 914 mm
  • Minimum feature size: 0.4 mm
  • Minimum wall thickness: 0.75 mm (supported)
  • Tolerance: +/- 0.5 mm
  • Lead time: 8 days 

Xometry services

In addition to these polymer AM processes, Xometry offers an Instant Quoting Engine that estimates cost and lead time based on part design, production method, material selection and post-processing. This enables customers to rapidly access quotes and place orders, as well as access fast turnaround times from three to eight days for printed parts. The company also offers detailed guide and design tips for each of its additive manufacturing solutions, which can be found in the company’s PRO resources.

This article was published in collaboration with Xometry. 

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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