Everywhere I explored at Rapid 2009, it was apparent there is a battle under way in materials technology in the fast-emerging rapid manufacturing industry. Some suppliers have “real” materials. Others are stiff and tough. Some are clear. Design engineers can be excused if they can’t keep it straight. You virtually need to keep a daily scorecard. And no matter what you pick, you are probably making some type of tradeoff. There may be some sacrifice in surface finish or accuracy in a laser sintering process. But you get real world metals and plastics that are actually used in functional applications. The range of materials’ qualities you can get with stereolithography systems is impressive. They are increasingly stiff and tough, and will be getting better in terms of thermal properties. Both systems offer the opportunity to create intricate internal shapes, though. And that’s something that’s expensive and difficult to achieve in the injection molding process.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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