With rapid prototyping using SLS (selective laser sintering) and SLM (selective laser melting), you receive time-efficient, functional and resilient functional prototypes. This way, problems and weaknesses are detected early on during development and the design or function can be digitally modified accordingly. Rapid prototyping components enable projects to be realised step by step, while at the same time minimising the risk of error sources in the final product and thus also the investment risk.
FKM already offers an interesting additional service in rapid prototyping that goes beyond pure additive manufacturing processes: thinking along with the customer in the design process. Also as a project partner.
Whether it is a recommendation dependent on the specifications regarding the material selection, alternatives for a finishing or the final assembly of components – FKM supports every idea, no matter how “impossible” it may seem, with SLS and SLM solutions and passionately takes care of its realisation. This reduces the development risk and secures further investment steps.
Thanks to FKM’s unique manufacturing capacity and the technological production advantages underlying the SLS and SLM processes, true rapid prototyping – i.e. fast prototypes in record time – is not the exception but a reliable performance standard.
Rapid prototyping – our services
FKM Sintertechnik offers a wide range of services related to additive manufacturing processes. Rapid prototyping, which plays a major role especially in the development of new components, is an umbrella term for various technologies with the help of which three-dimensional objects and workpieces are produced via additive processes. It also includes various steps for optimal post-processing. Our FKM service portfolio includes SLS, SLM, rapid tooling, the post-processing of workpieces as well as 3D milling and 3D control scans. Our core services in rapid prototyping lie in the two processes SLS and SLM.
The advantages of rapid prototyping
- Time saving
- Reduction of development time
- Fast production directly with the digital 3D data
- Constructive freedom
- Previously “impossible” constructions can now be implemented cost-effectively
- Weight reduction
- Cost advantages through tool-free production
- Cost advantages by reducing the number of components in an assembly
- Risk management
The advantages of prototyping with 3D printing?
Rapid prototyping is a process in which functional prototypes and ready-to-sell workpieces are produced in three dimensions as quickly as possible. This process is used in particular for the development of new or optimised mould, tools and components. Various techniques, depending on the underlying materials, are gathered under this single term: plastics are turned into fully functional three-dimensional workpieces using the selective laser sintering process, metals using the selective laser melting process. Commercial 3D-prototyping was first introduced in the USA as early as 1987. Since then, this process has become indispensable in the industrial and medical fields and has been continuously optimised. Rapid prototyping scores with several advantages over the conventional production of prototypes or in the production of small series.
The first point to mention is the speed of production. This means that an idea can be realised promptly and, if necessary, changes can be made in a short time until the perfect product has been created. Errors and weak points can be discovered more quickly on the real model. At the same time, the use of materials is minimised considerably, because thanks to the additive construction of the workpiece, far smaller amounts of material waste are produced than in cutting or milling production. The powder that was not fused or sintered into an object can be used for the next prototyping process. The shortened production times with simultaneously lower material costs are therefore an economic advantage that should not be underestimated.
Rapid Prototyping Process
SLS and SLM belong to our core competencies. Both processes work with the same underlying technological idea – layering processes that build up an object or workpiece, as opposed to machining manufacturing processes that carve pieces out of a block.
Selective laser sintering
Selective laser sintering, or SLS for short, is an additive layer construction process in which objects are created layer by layer by fusing special plastic powders with utmost accuracy. Thanks to this process, it is also possible to create complicated geometries. Moving components and internal cavities, such as those required for contour-close cooling, are also possible in SLS. There are no seams, because the workpieces can be created in a single step, depending on their size. Almost unlimited design freedom is one of the advantages of SLS. As well as cost and time efficiency.
Selective laser melting
Another service we offer is selective laser melting (SLM). In this process, various metal powders are fused into a functional object by means of a layer construction process, similar to the process used with plastics in selective laser sintering. This also creates workpieces with integrated functionalities such as cooling channels close to the contour. Filigree and complex geometries can also be produced in SLM. The underlying technology is the same as for laser sintering, except that different metals are the base materials here.
At FKM, a total of 17 different materials are used in rapid prototyping. The choice depends on the use of the end product. Is tensile strength, flexibility, a light weight or temperature and break resistance required?
Depending on functionality and intended use, we have 10 different plastics. These are available in powder form and are then melted with pinpoint accuracy by laser sintering. The plastics used are:
- PA 12 white, natural and grey
- PA 12 GF (glass fibre/glass beads)
- PA 11
- PA 6
- PA Flame Resistant in 2 variants
- TPU 92A
- PEEK HP3 (high-tech polymer)
For SLM, the laser melting process, FKM Sintertechnik currently offers a selection of 7 metal materials. The different materials allow a wide range of applications, depending on the operational field. Even the production of additively manufactured objects for areas in which these workpieces are exposed to high mechanical and thermal loads – such as in aerospace – is feasible thanks to special metals. Our metals are:
- Aluminium AlSi10mg
- Stainless steel 1.4404 and 1.4542
- Tool steel 1.2709
- Inconel 718
- Copper CuNi2SiCr
- Cobalt-chrome remanium® star CL
- TPU 92A
- Titanium Ti64
Areas of application
The application possibilities of rapid prototyping are manifold, as almost any shape and contour can be realised. Even movable and geometrically complex parts can be produced. Functional workpieces can be created in record time without the use of tools, in line with demand and to accompany research in industry, healthcare and the automotive sector as well as in aerospace. Architects also make use of prototyping techniques to create scaled-down models of designs and to have building constructions more illustratively available. This three-dimensional additive printing process is also used in the planning of various aircraft manufacturers. The use of 3D printing has great potential, especially in the medical field. For example, prostheses or implants can be manufactured specifically for the patient. Rapid prototyping is also invaluable in space travel, especially regarding future projects. Astronauts, for example, could someday make spare parts and components themselves in a space-station instead of taking costly cargo from Earth.
Prototyping always starts with an idea, either to optimise an existing product or to realise new ideas. With the help of CAD, the component is first created digitally and then printed using a rapid prototyping procedure. Changes can now be made as required before small-scale production is started.
You tell us your ideas and send us your design in CAD or another 3D-programme.
We check or create the CAD-data and discuss the feasibility of your idea with you. This initial visualisation forms an important first step in rapid prototyping.
If the 3D visualisations are correct, a first prototype is produced. A prototype is primarily used to test and examine the realised idea for errors or discrepancies. Are the tolerances within acceptable limits? Do changes have to be made in the CAD-file, etc? We create a prototype as often as necessary until exactly the product you have imagined has been created.
Once a prototype has been optimised down to the smallest detail, we now 3D-print small series if required. Especially with highly specialised workpieces, printing makes more sense than first making tools and then producing the small series. You save time and money.
What is rapid prototyping suitable for?
Rapid prototyping is particularly suitable during project development. By printing out models quickly, potential sources of error can be identified directly, and the CAD data can be adjusted accordingly. This way, you end up with a fully functional, mature workpiece. Functional tests can be carried out and the fit checked under realistic conditions. Working with realistic prototypes minimises the investment risk because the final product is already and guaranteed fully suitable.
What are prototypes from the 3D printer suitable for?
- When it has to be done quickly
- When no tool is to be made
- If several variants are to be tested
- When it is supposed to be real, resilient functional prototypes