The production of plastic prototypes by stereolithography is suitable for unit production of geometrically complex shapes to perform visual tests, marketing validation or ergonomic tests.
Stereolithography (also known as “SLA”) is a so-called “additive” design process. Before the widespread use of 3D printing, it was commonly known as “3D stereolithography”. The part is manufactured by addition of plastic material solidified by a UV laser.
Stereolithography, also known as SLA (Stereolithography Apparatus) is the oldest and most frequently used rapid prototyping technology. This production method allows the quick creation of models or plastic parts with high precision, large dimensions and complex geometries.
Technical details of stereolithography
In rapid prototyping by stereolithography, the part is custom-made by adding successive layers of photosensitive resin. The SLA machine is controlled by computer and manufactures according to a computer file. A UV laser is used to solidify the liquid material. The resins used can be epoxy, acrylic or similar to ABS. The choice of resins depends on the desired visual and mechanical properties. For example, there are resins that are transparent, water-resistant, more or less rigid, simulating the properties of ABS, etc. Nevertheless, the choice remains limited.
Stereolithography is ideal for the rapid visualisation of an object. This production method is often used by designers to visually validate a design. The models have high precision with geometries that can be relatively complex. In vacuum casting, this process is used to create the key parts needed to design moulds. Stereolithography is generally recommended for production sizes smaller than 3 copies of a part. The prototypes obtained have a smooth surface to which certain finishes can be applied.
Value of 3D printing by stereolithography
The creation of plastic prototypes by stereolithography is suitable for unit production for relatively complex geometric shapes. This manufacturing method is used for visual testing, ergonomics testing or marketing validation. The main advantages of stereolithography are its speed and low cost of production. However, as with 3D printing, the choice of resins is relatively limited and often similar. Stereolithography does not always allow the desired finishes to be obtained. Finally, the mechanical properties are also very limited. Therefore, this prototyping process is not relevant for parts with strict technical constraints where the functional parameters are important.
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