Patents related to the SLS 3D printing process are about to expire. SLS stands for Selective Laser Sintering, a process where a layer of powder is selectively melted by a laser, gradually forming an object. Up to now, the technology has been exclusively used by 3D Systems, who owns the relevant patents.
After Stratasys’ key FDM patents expired an explosion of new 3D printing companies emerged to leverage that process. Something similar could happen with SLS technology. There’s already at least one initiative for open source SLS printing.
But will it really happen? We see a key of difficulty.
If you’ve ever visited an existing powder-printing facility you’ll quickly notice that there is usually a separate room for “de-powdering”. These rooms are sometimes air-tight and those print operators extracting finished objects from the powder bed are wearing masks and sometimes clean suits, too.
This could be a problem.
How would a personal 3D printer using a powder process be safe? How can the powder be reliably prevented from spilling, spreading and blowing all over? Will setups have to include highly-ventilated sealed rooms? Will personal SLS printers include vacuum-powered powder management systems?
We are not sure, but we suspect certain entrepreneurs and inventors are thinking about this problem right now.