Resin-based 3D printers, such as the Form 2 from Formlabs, will dominate the sector over the next five years. What makes SLA superior to FDM printing?
Within the next five years, resin-based SLA 3D printers will dominate the market. Why? They simply produce a higher-quality print than their filament-fueled FDM counterparts, and the edge FDM currently has over SLA will disappear quickly as manufacturers explore this technology further.
Let's take a look at why resin is disrupting the 3D printing scene, and why it is already stealing the spotlight from the once-revolutionary filament-based machines.
A better calibre of printer
Compare the results of a fresh print job from an SLA and FDM machine, and you'll see the difference immediately: SLA produces more-intricate designs, while projects made with many desktop FDM 3D printers come out with a pixelated appearance. Post-printing work, such as sanding and detailing, is required to polish up these creations. SLA machines, on the other hand, create stunning detail with high-resolution printing capabilities.
This higher printing resolution gives SLA an extra advantage over FDM: efficiency. This is in spite of the fact that current SLA machines print at a slower rate than FDM ones.
That may seem like a contradiction, but it becomes clear when you account for the entire project workflow. The higher resolution you get from SLA can streamline the process, even eliminating certain steps entirely - fine details can be handled during the printing stage rather than in postproduction.
Hurdles ahead for SLA
The success of SLA is not a sure thing, however. There are key obstacles manufacturers must address to ensure resin unseats filament in the 3D printing arena. Fortunately, remedies are in sight for many of these problems.
The price of machines and consumables is the most significant drawback, but that's going to change as more entrants come onto the scene. Increased competition and the technology's maturation will both place downward pressure on costs and contribute to affordability.
The resin itself presents another problem. It's far more difficult to work with than filament. Resin is typically messier, which tends to make refilling difficult. Fortunately, we're already seeing improvements. The Formlabs Form 2 SLA printer, for instance, has all but eliminated this concern with its Automated Resin System. Easily replaceable tanks combined with level-sensing technology ensure a longer use life and a seamless refill experience.
There are issues with SLA printers, to be sure, but solutions are on the way. As these are resolved and costs decrease, we are sure to see greater take up of these machines, particularly by experienced users who are ready for something better from their next printer.
Don't ditch your FDM printer
That isn't to say that days are numbered for filament-based printers. These machines will still have their part to play, and their role is undergoing an exciting transition. With SLA printers, higher printing resolution comes at a cost, and not all users need that level of definition. A more cost-effective FDM printer will be a great option for them.
Organisations like educational institutions often require a high print-volume capacity but are limited by tight budgetary concerns. They will continue to find filament-based devices like the Ultimaker line an ideal option, especially when configured as part of a lab or bank of multiple printers. When combined with access to the cloud, this setup will give organisations increased printing freedom. Individual users will be able to send projects to available cloud-connected printers in a central location and receive the finished version when it's complete. The lower cost of an FDM printer and its consumables make this a very affordable option.
There's a bright future ahead for both FDM and SLA machines, even as they move forward on separate paths. Expect to see exciting innovations ahead for both 3D printing technologies as more widespread use across the sector inspires a new generation of advancements.