3D printing has the power to bring imagination to life by giving it a concrete shape. A student can translate his understanding of the physical world into 3D objects. A designer can transform ideas into real objects that they can touch and feel before going into production. A dentist can build a night guard right in the office without requiring the patient to return for another visit. The possibilities are endless.
The cost of a 3D printer ranges from less than $1,000 to more than $100,000. At lower price points, 3D printers are often referred to as desktop or personal 3D printers. One of the challenges for desktop 3D printers is print speed and print quality at affordable price points. In the desktop 3D printer segment, the popular technologies are fused filament fabrication (FFF) and stereolithography (SLA).
While inexpensive, FFF technology, also known as fused deposition modeling (FDM), has two fundamental limitations: speed and resolution due to point-by-point stitching of the filament material.
SLA, also known as photo polymerization, uses light and a material called photopolymers or resins. The photopolymers, upon exposure to ultraviolet (UV) or near-UV light, undergo a chemical reaction known as polymerization and turn into a solid object, as illustrated in Figure 1. Recent developments in material chemistry are enabling sub-$1,000 SLA printers, thus extending their reach into mainstream markets.
Figure 1: SLA 3D printing
SLA technology can be implemented using one of two approaches:
LCD technology suffers from poor reliability, exposing liquid crystals to low-wavelength light causes the crystals to degrade over time. On the other hand, DLP technology is a microelectromechanical systems technology that modulates light using a digital micromirror device (DMD). DLP 3D printers have the fundamental advantages of high reliability, high accuracy and high speed.
Table 1 summarizes the key differences between the FFF and SLA technologies.
Table 1: Comparison of desktop 3D printer technologies
Small form-factor light engine reference design for desktop 3D printers using DLP® Pico™ technology
With DMD micromirror arrays ranging in size from 0.2-inch diagonal up to 0.47 inches, DLP Pico chipsets are a good fit for desktop 3D printers. Here are four example application areas that can benefit greatly from the affordability and performance of DLP Pico products:
Figure 2: Digital dentistry with 3D printing
Figure 3: 3D printing in jewelry
Figure 4: 3D printing for prototyping
Figure 5: 3D printing in education
Optical modules for desktop 3D printers
The DLP Pico ecosystem of independent, third-party companies provides quick access to production-ready optical modules using DLP Pico chipsets. Check out this supplier list of optical modules optimized for DLP 3D printing applications.
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