Today’s artists and designers who work in three-dimensions have a wonderful array of computer-based tools to help them make objects. Those tools generally fit into three categories: milling, sintering and printing. All three start with an artist/designer creating a 3-D computer model of an object. That model is loaded into the controlling computer for a milling, sintering or printing machine and the machine then produces whatever was designed. The entire process is similar to writing a word-based document and sending it to the printer on your desktop. It is similar but infinitely more complex because the end product exists in three dimensions.
Previously we discussed CNC milling. You can find that post here. Today we will focus on laser sintering.
Laser sintering is the most complex and precise of the three tools we are discussing in this series. It is an additive process using fusible resin that has been ground into a microscopically fine powder. In a controlled environment an extremely thin layer of this powder is spread over the flat surface of an adjustable platform. Multiple laser beams are then focused at specific spots on that layer of powder causing the resin particles to melt and fuse together. After the spots have been fused the supporting platform drops down a very small distance (hardly visible to the naked eye) and another layer of resin powder is spread over it. Again the laser beams are focused on precise spots and more resin is fused. Layer after layer after layer this process is repeated until the entire object has been fused (e.g., sintered).
One advantage to laser sintering is that, as an object is being built, we can see inside it and we have access to that interior space. Complex objects within objects can be built. Another advantage to laser sintering is that several different materials can be combined in the same object. Metal powders, for example, can be dusted in some areas and fused with the resin powder – adding strength or electrical conductivity to specific features.