Barcelona-based Natural Robotics has launched a very interesting SLS 3D printer on Kickstarter today.
The machine, known as the VIT SLS, is one of several new lower cost options that utilize the well-known SLS process. SLS, or Selective Laser Sintering, involves blasting the flat surface of a powder layer with a powerful laser to fuse particles together. By repeating this process over many layers, complex objects can be produced in high resolution.
The major advantage of the SLS process is that there is no need for support material, as each layer is supported by unfused powder beneath it. When a SLS print completes, you must dig it out of a chamber full of loose powder. This means that you have virtually no geometric constraints on the object and can print extraordinarily detailed items without fear of failure.
SLS has been around for a very long time, having been first popularized by 3D Systems and EOS, whose industrial SLS systems are used worldwide. Unfortunately, while their equipment is of very high quality, they also carry very high price levels, putting it out of reach of many.
The good news, at least for buyers, is that the original patents on this process have or are about to expire, opening up the possibility of others making lower cost equivalents. And this is certainly the case with entries from SinterIt, FormLabs and Sintratec.
Now they’r joined by newcomer Natural Robotics, who previously (and I suppose still do) manufacture high quality delta-style plastic extrusion 3D printers. This is a big jump for them, with an entirely new 3D printing process. They say:
Reinventing the Selective Laser Sintering for individual use and small-scale productions. After analysing the main problems that arose in the 3D printing market for the users of this technology, we detected the needs and set out to find solutions for each and every one of them.
The VIT SLS machine includes a healthy build volume of 250 x 250 x 250mm, and is connected by various common networking options. The 40W single internal laser is capable of fusing many different appropriately powdered polymers, including the frequently used polyamide material.
In this video you can see the dual powder tanks on each side of the build chamber, which permits somewhat faster printing because the layer recoating arm needs to move only one direction per layer.
The VIT SLS 3D printer has been in prototype mode for some time, but is now being offered for public sale. At launch, the company has decided to use Kickstarter as their launch platform and has specified a very interesting discount: While their standard retail price is said to be USD$11,100, at launch you can get one for only USD$7,100. That puts their product square in the range of the other low-cost SLS providers.
At this price, a great many more companies may take up the powerful SLS process for their 3D printing options. Remember, different tools are best suited for different requirements, and it may be important to have more than one 3D printing process at your disposal.