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|If you add up just the top 10 sites offering free stereolithography CAD libraries you will find more than 17 million models available for download*. Although most of these designs incorporate a superhero, bobblehead, or Star Wars theme (or perhaps a combination of all three) the sheer number of designs is a testament to the availability of rapid manufacturing of solid plastic objects. If you told a design engineer back in 2005 that 3d printing would be so prolific, they would probably assume all prototyping in 2020 was performed by 3D printers. It has made a huge impact in the last 10 years promising cheap, quickly manufactured parts. However, it’s not quite the miracle machine most engineers would like. Compared to traditional CNC manufacturing, it’s more akin to the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic - producing parts that are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the STL file.
The concept of printing a 3D model with the same ease and convenience of a Word doc is great in theory, however, it misses the mark in practice. The biggest drawback is the material itself. 3D printers are mostly limited to a specific set of thermoplastics, typically Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), or Polylactic Acid (PLA). These materials have low heat deflection, low strength, and low density. Additionally, the process of printing these materials produces a rough surface finish that requires additional finishing steps. Accuracy is also a significant problem. Currently, the latest 3D print technology can only manufacture parts to an accuracy of 100μm for small parts and much worse for larger parts. Although the 3D printer makes for an impressive trade show display or YouTube video subject, it simply cannot compete with modern laser cutting technology.
Laser cutting is a contactless process that produces warp-free parts at incredibly tight tolerances (5-10 times more accurate than 3D printers). Unlike injection molding or mechanical milling, there are no machine marks, no thermal deformation. Similar to 3D printing, laser cutting side steps long delays to establish tooling. Laser cutting provides the speed of 3D printing with the accuracy of traditional CNC manufacturing while accommodating a wide range of materials.
Micron Laser Technology specializes in custom laser cut plastics. For more than 20 years, MLT has perfected laser processes and techniques that allow our customers to push the envelope of manufactured plastic parts. Additionally, we can supply all of the aforementioned materials, or manufacture from customer supplied stock. If you would like to learn more about how Micron Laser can improve your products and processes subscribe to this blog, and check out our website www.micronlaser.com.