Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is a type of additive manufacturing process that uses a laser as a thermal source for fusing ceramic, glass, plastic, metal powder and others into a 3-dimensional object. Many consider SLS to have the most diverse list of viable materials.
Carl Deckard developed and patented SLS while studying under Joe Beaman as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. Although Deckard patented SLS in the late 80’s the process of sintering, heating powder particles to just below their boiling point while under pressure, is not new at all. Sintering itself has been used for thousands of years to create objects such as ceramic pots, bricks and jewelry.
The SLS printing process begins with a CAD design file being uploaded into the printer. A laser then sinters the first layer of the file’s object into a bed of powder. At this point, a mechanical arm then sweeps a fresh layer of powder over the previously sintered layer and the process is repeated until the object is finished.
The advantages of SLS is the capability of producing strong, dense, objects. The drawback of SLS is rough surface finishes and accuracy. These production elements make SLS a common choice for the production of prototype parts and end-use products in limited-run-manufacturing.