Every 3D printing material, and every technology, has an application. Whether that’s to create jigs, jaws and fixtures, or casings for consumer electronics, there’s always something. Nylon, perhaps, is the most versatile of all materials. But, the Fused Filament Fabrication 3D printers that can print it offer limited performance. This is because of the technology, not the material; a mechanical print head, as all FFF 3D printers have, limits the geometries that are possible during the print process.
Stereolithography is equally limited, but in a different way; nylon resins are expensive and prone to irregular performance. The Formlabs Form 2, the best desktop SLA 3D printer on the market today, doesn’t support nylon for this reason. There has to be a better way to print nylon, then. A better technology. Selective Laser Sintering is one such option, and Formlabs thinks so too. This year, their latest 3D printer, the Fuse 1, will go on sale. In the meantime, we thought we’d put together a guide for those of you not in the know about it.
The Formlabs Fuse 1 is a Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D printer. SLS 3D printers use a high-powered laser to selectively ‘sinter’ material. Most 3D printers that utilise this technology specialise in metal 3D printing. These are called DMLS 3D printers. But the Fuse 1 is different because it prints nylon. In this particular application, you can think of ‘sintering’ as hardening and bonding. The laser traces a pattern in the nylon powder, one layer at a time, to form a solid model. SLS is not a new technology, but this is the first time it has been applied to a benchtop 3D printer with industrial-grade results.
SLS has practical advantages over FFF or SLA for design and engineering applications. There’s no need for support structure on any model design, and you can print consolidated models in one sitting. This means you can print models as one part, rather than in several separate parts for assembly. SLS allows designers to create complex interior components using unique geometries, and it allows engineers to reproduce parts with precise replication.
The Fuse 1 prints with nylon powder exclusively. It is, in fact, the first Formlabs 3D printer designed from the ground up to print with nylon. The nylon powder is proprietary, so it’s made by Formlabs to the highest possible specification.
Nylon 12 has a 50-52 MPa ultimate tensile strength rating, with 12 cent elongation at break. That makes it super-tough. It’s also heat resistant and highly resistant to abrasion and chemicals such as acids and alkalis. Nylon 11 has a 48 MPa ultimate tensile strength rating, with 35 per cent elongation at break
Here’s the full specs for Nylon 12 and Nylon 11:
Nylon 11 and 12 are both single component powders. With the Fuse 1, you can also print with up to 50 per cent recycled powder.
It’s also important to point out that the Form 2, Formlabs’ SLA 3D printer, does not support nylon. The nearest thing to nylon it prints is Tough Resin. So, if you want to 3D print with nylon, the Fuse 1 is for you.
3D Printer Specifications
The Fuse 1 is an impressive 3D printer, both in isolation and on the spec sheet. It has a 165 x 165 x 320 mm build volume, will print at a speed of up to 10 mm / hour, and boasts a 110 µm layer resolution (110-microns). The printer itself measures 677 x 668 x 1,059 mm, which is relatively compact even compared to desktop FFF 3D printers, and weighs 88kg. So, this is a heavy 3D printer, but rest assured that translates to rock solid performance. In terms of software and file compatibility, the Formlabs Fuse 1 will print .STL or .OBJ files and runs PreForm Desktop Software.
Fuse 1 Applications
Selective laser sintering uses a laser to precisely fuse nylon powder into lightweight, robust parts. As we discussed in the technology section, it allows designers to create complex parts with unique geometries, and the highly consistent technology makes repeatability achievable, always. With such an awesome description, you’d think that the Fuse 1 could replace any old 3D printer you have lying around. It is, however, a niche product that’s engineered for industrial applications. In other words, this isn’t a gadget for an office user, but a serious piece of kit for engineers.
The Fuse 1’s potential applications are largely dictated by its print material, nylon. Nylon is abrasion resistant, heat resistant, and has a low friction coefficient. It’s also extremely strong. However, when you factor in the complex geometries Selective Laser Sintering allows, the potential applications more than triple.
The Fuse 1 offers the following features:
– High throughput
– High productivity
– High uptime
– Proven results
– Low cost of ownership
With the Fuse 1, you can 3D print high-performance machine parts, tools, living hinges, jigs, jaws, and fixtures. You can print housings, casings, shells, and electronic components. You can print gears, sheaves, and sprockets for industrial machinery. And at the other end of the scale, you can print beautifully-detailed models. An example being the bicycle seat in the image above, which was 3D printed with the Fuse 1 at 10 mm / hour with a 110 µm layer resolution.
Boasting affordability compared to industrial SLS 3D printers, low maintenance and maximum uptime, the Fuse 1 ticks all the right boxes for designers and engineers. It is the first 3D printer to offer industrial-grade SLS performance in a compact, benchtop-friendly package. The only trade-offs versus an industrial-size SLS 3D printer are a slightly slower build time, and a smaller build volume. But when you consider the Fuse 1 costs less than a tenth of an industrial SLS 3D printer, you can hardly hold these against it, especially when you consider the performance it offers.