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Achieving the lowest cost with SLS 3D printing

Polish SLS specialist Sinterit reduces its powder refresh ratio to 26%

Since it was developed in the 1980s, selective laser sintering (also known as SLS) has been recognized for its ability to print polymer parts with high-quality finishes and good mechanical and isotropic properties. However, the technology’s associations have not all been so positive: SLS 3D printing is also known to be expensive—often prohibitively so.

In recent years, one company in particular has attempted and succeeded to turn this notion on its head. Poland-based Sinterit has showed the additive world that SLS need not be a high-cost process: it is possible to make it accessible. But how?

Why the high cost?

Traditionally, the cost of SLS 3D printing has been cost-intensive for a number of reasons. First, the 3D printers themselves are expensive because of the integration of high-quality lasers and complex configurations. Most systems have also been costly to use and maintain because they require highly trained operators. Added to that are the volume of powder required to fill the print workspace and the need for regular, specialized on-site servicing. All these factors amount to a polymer AM process that, for all its benefits, is too expensive for many applications.

Lowest Cost SLS 3D printing

“We all know research centers and business clusters that bought such SLS 3D printers for their labs,” says Sinterit. “But companies incorporated in these clusters have rarely used the technology due to the high costs of printing.”

Opening SLS up

Sinterit came onto the scene in 2014 with the aim of driving the cost of SLS 3D printing down and increasing its adoption. Today, it is one of the few companies that has succeeded in this mission, offering some of the cheapest SLS systems on the market. But how has it achieved this?

The answer is fairly straightforward, but involves a few key factors. For one, Sinterit’s two systems, the Lisa and Lisa Pro, have smaller workspaces than most other SLS systems, which lowers machine and printing costs significantly. The systems are also user-friendly, only requiring a two-hour online training session, and can be easily maintained by users.

Lowest Cost SLS 3D printing

Most importantly, however, is the fact that Sinterit has achieved a high powder refresh ratio. This means that much of the unused powder material in the print bed—which acts as a natural support in the printing process—can be reused in upcoming print jobs.

A lower powder refresh ratio essentially means that more used powder can be integrated into a mixture with new powder, which results in a lower cost and better ROI. Sinterit, which has always been a leader in achieving good powder refresh ratios (about 30%), has recently lowered its ratio even more, to 26%. Looking specifically at cost, this 4% reduction has meant a drop from €33/kg to €31.20/kg.

Crunch the numbers

Sinterit has devised a price calculation that demonstrates the cost-accessibility of its SLS technology. The calculations seen below are based on the optimal density of a print bed and 10 printouts weekly. The calculation also takes into account the 26% refresh ratio, basic labor costs and the cost of machine depreciation.

Battery lever

  • Part size: 38 x 31 x 12 mm
  • Material: PA12 Smooth
  • Part volume: 2.02 cm3
  • Powder cost per part [?]
  • Single piece printed: €6.9
  • 170 pcs printed: €86.70
  • Price per print: €86.7/170 = €0.51

Bike pedal

  • Part size: 91 x 88 x 36 mm
  • Material: PA12 Smooth
  • Part volume: 33.25 cm3
  • Powder cost per part [?]
  • Single piece printed: 14.2€
  • 8 pcs printed: 68.5€
  • Price per print: 68.5€/8 = 8.56€

Suspension

  • Part size: 80 x 113 x 122 mm
  • Material: PA12 Smooth
  • Part volume: 114.98 cm3
  • Powder cost per part [?]
  • Single piece printed: 33.2€
  • 2 pcs printed: 68.5€
  • Price per print: 68.5€/2 = 30.05€

Water bottle

water bottle sls
Water bottle, single unit
  • Part size: 76 x 80 x 225 mm
  • Material: PA12 Smooth
  • Part volume: 132 cm3
  • Powder cost per part [?]
  • Single piece printed: 37.1€
  • (One piece is the maximum for the working area of Lisa PRO)

This article was published in collaboration with Sinterit.

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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