Delivering on the Promise of a Polymer-Based, Production-Scale Additive Manufacturing Alternative to Traditional Injection Molding

A shorter product lifecycle across many industries has turned up the heat on injection molding parts manufacturers.They’re under massive pressure from customers to lower costs per part – even for low and medium volume production, despite the fact that tooling costs remain fixed. What’s more, consumer product manufacturers are increasingly hesitant to commit to costly tooling investments prior to product launch and market validation.

Additive manufacturing using laser sintering has long shown promise, yet until now the technique has suffered from slow production speeds and flexibility compared to traditional injection molding.

Now, that has changed.

Hold On, What is Laser Sintering?

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing technique in which a laser is used to sinter powdered material into a solid structure. Unlike 3D printing, in which a liquid substrate is deposited layer-by-layer to form the item being produced, laser sintering forms the end-product by using the heat from a precisely-focused laser that coalesces a powder substrate into a solid mass. There are a number of advantages to this technique, notably:

  • Laser sintering produces more complex parts in less time at lower cost -cost-effectively creates parts that are consolidated (requiring no assembly) –including geometries that other techniques can’t produce
  • Laser sintering requires no supports –support structures that other 3D printing technologies usually need to prevent design collapse during production are not necessary, saving cost in materials
  • Laser sintering boasts less part damage – with no supports, there is an inherently lower risk of part damage, which enables creation of more complex interior components
  • Laser sintering produces more robust products -more robust products withstand both wear-and-tear and environmental conditions better

So, What’s Changed?

What’s changed is the mass-market availability of next-generation laser sintering from NXT Factory. Known as Quantum Laser Sintering (QLS), this technology relies on a unique multiple beam delivery system that delivers 4X the print speed of traditional laser sintering – bringing it on par with the print speeds of Multi-Jet Fusion printers.

NXT Factory’s most recent QLS product, the QLS 350, offers significant savings on tooling costs and unprecedented production flexibility for manufacturers. Fully automated, the QLS 350 system features an automated exchangeable powder cart with an embedded line following system, superior thermal control supported by thermal vision and multiple sensors, and cloud-based production management system to give end users total control over their printing processes.

The QLS 350 is a game-changer for manufacturers seeking to avoid costs of tooling for volumes of up to 12,000 parts per year – which is where many low volume automotive parts and other manufacturers work. It’s essentially a tool-less and scalable alternative to traditional injection molding – and far exceeds the scope and speeds of traditional laser sintering and filament extrusion technologies.

The Bottom Line

The QLS 350 is the first ever high-speed, high-temperature, high-performance laser-sintering polymer system. It’s also the first laser sintering product that can compete head-to-head with the costs and performance of injection molding. Moreover, it’s the only fully automated laser sintering production system featuring a robotically guided exchangeable powder cart, integrated thermal management, multiple sensors, and a cloud-based production management system.

Add this all up, and laser sintering-based additive manufacturing for low and medium volume production has just moved into the mainstream!

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