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Best SLM 3D Printer – The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide in 2020

Printers based on SLM technology have an impression to cost more than printers based on other technologies. Manufacturers worldwide have been trying to make a breakthrough to manufacture low-cost printers based on this technology.

This is to make the technology available to small business owners. Overall, the technology is known to generate intricate parts and functional prototypes with utmost precision.

Before giving you the list of best SLM 3D printers, we will give you a brief to help you understand how this technology works in producing parts and functional prototypes.

The process works in many steps, the first of which is to apply metal powder on the build platform of the printer. After successfully distributing metal evenly on the print bed, the printer, the laser would selectively melt the first layer into the powder.

This would be followed by the lowering of the built platform by one layer height which when measured is typically between 30 and 50 µm. Again, a new layer of powder is subsequently applied to the platform, and the laser selectively melts this layer of the model.

The point here to note is that in this process, due to melting, the powder fuses with the layer that is below the current one, so step-by-step the model is created.

Specifically while doing laser sintering with PA12 (Nylon), the powder that is applied on the built platform is compacted by a thermic process. This leads to the creation of a physical model without the use of any support structures.

Whereas in laser melting with metal powder, this compacting of the built platform is not possible to the same extend. And hence it leads to the need for support structures while performing the technique. Let’s look at the top three SLM printers.

List of top 5 SLM 3D printers

Direct metal 3D printing was developed between the years 1995 and 1999. So, it is relatively a younger 3D printing technology when compared with FDM and SLA. For the development of this technology, several companies were working on this technology simultaneously.

But the first working printer based on laser melting technology was developed in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1999. While the term ‘SLM’ was coined by the company SLM Solutions.

The company is a spin-off of several companies that were involved in the development of this technology. Currently, SLM Solutions is one of the leading providers of metal 3D printers.

SLM 125

SLM 125

Credit: additively.com

SLM 125 is a compact SLM 3d printer that offers a built envelope of 125 mm x 125 mm x 125 mm. The built envelope can also be reduced to 50 x 50 x 50 mm with a single 400W fiber laser.

This printer is precise in developing prints of parts and functional prototypes. It is also economical and suitable for research and development. SLM 125 can also be used in small-lot production environments.

The printer’s allowance to open software architecture and system parameters permits you to make modifications according to your specific manufacturing needs. Users can achieve the fastest build speeds from the system’s patented bi-directional powder recoater movement. Mechanism of this printer such as internal re-circulation of inert gas at laminar flow provides a safe and cost-efficient gas consumption.

Equipped with software and component-specific features, the SLM 125 allows its users to achieve greater system control by letting you customize your construction processes. This the manufacturer has ensured by providing a unique, flexible, and open software architecture.

Processing of most metal powders is done through metal saving and closed-loop powder handling unit. Users would be able to change the metal powder quickly, easily, and in a way that will lower their production costs.

There are also options available in the printer that increases the versatility of the system. The company made Laser Power Monitoring and Melt Pool Monitoring quality assurance modules are two things that ensure process transparency.

PROS:
  • Open-sourced.
  • High built rate.
  • Has variable layer thickness.
  • Good Scan speed.

CONS:
  • Users of FDM printing technology may find the technique to be very complex.

Name of the industries where it is applicable

Aerospace, Tooling, Medical, and Metal, Energy and Automotive.

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ProtoFab SLM 150

ProtoFab SLM 150Credit: directindustry.com

This printer offers a wide choice of materials. Protofab 150 is an entry-level SLM printer that uses a broad choice of materials. The list of materials includes stainless steel, Cobalt, Chrome, Bronze, Titanium, Aluminum, etc.

Thanks to ProtoFab’s patented layer applying technology, that even smaller particles can be used that allow for generating the finest feature detail and thinnest wall thickness. That brings us to the second important feature that this printer has i.e. high-quality printing of parts and functional prototypes.

The ProtoFab SLM150 is a high-quality 3D printing alternative compared to the traditional low-quality print producing manufacturing processes. Not only does it offer reduced waste, greater speeds for production, but also short set up times, very dense metal parts, and the ability to produce very complex assemblies as a single part.

This brings us to the third important feature that ProtoFab 150 has i.e. it is great value for money. And why do we say this? We say this because the Protofab SLM150 manufactures small, complex metal parts in a build volume of 150 mm x 150 mm x 100 mm with a surface finish quality of up to 5 Ra μm where very less post-processing is required.

PROS:
  • Wide choice of materials.
  • High-quality prints.
  • Great value in return for money.

CONS:
  • Expensive for those who have used traditional printing methods.

Name of the industries where it is applicable

Automotive, Footwear, Electronics, Medical, Dental and Art, and Fashion.

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SLM 500

SLM 500Credit: aniwaa.com

This printer was the first printer in the market to offer a quad-laser system. The SLM500 serves as the flagship additive manufacturing system. We say this because of the high volume parts and functional prototypes that it offers in metal additive manufacturing.

Because of such an offering, it can ensure users with operator safety and lower overall operational costs. In the printer, we have the integrated SLM Build Processor and open software architecture that offers the freedom of controlling system parameters. This is done to optimize and meet strict production needs.

SLM 500 features a 500 mm x 280 mm x 365 mm build chamber. This is not an ordinary build chamber because it is configurable with two or four overlapping lasers that have power ratings from 800 to a full 2800 Watts. SLM500 is a printer that offers a system that can be tailored to best meet your specific industrial metal 3D printing requirements.

There are quad laser optics which can increase your build rates by 90% over twin laser configurations. Additionally, there is the gas flow which is essential in removing soot from the process chamber.

This is required when you wish to do long-duration builds and optimize gas flow on all systems. Especially when you are producing complex components with the highest density and top surface quality.

The printer’s patented closed-loop transport of metal powder is extremely helpful in increasing operator safety and eliminating time-consuming manual fills and powder handling.

In reducing ancillary times, the automatic powder sieving procedure does not interfere with the parallel-running build process. Once finished the build cylinder is transported out of the system.

The next step which is cooling and removal of excess powder take place inside the part removal station. It takes place in a separate space so that the next build process can begin immediately.

The printer can process monitoring modules, Laser Power Monitoring, and Melt Pool Monitoring. These are available in ensuring transparency and traceability.

PROS:
  • The quad laser system enables high accuracy and detailing of parts and functional prototypes.
  • Bigger built volume.
  • Separate station for cooling and letting another printing process start sooner.

CONS:
  • Expensive.

Name of the industries where it is applicable

Aerospace, Tooling, Medical, and Metal, Energy and Automotive.

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iSLM 100

iSLM 100Credit: aniwaa.com

The laser system used in this printer is fiber laser type, having a wavelength of 1064 nanometer. It utilizes 200 Watts power. Recoating system of this printer uses scraper paving, wherein normal build is about 0.03 mm, quick build ranges from 0.03 mm to 0.05 mm. whereas precision build ranges from about 0.02 mm to 0.03mm.

The build volume generated by this printer is approximately 1.4 liters. Size is 110 mm * 110 mm * 110 mm. The maximum weight generated by the printer is 10 kg. The build vat of the printer is a precision resistor heater in type.

iSLM 100 allows you to print with Stainless Steel, Die Steel, Titanium Alloy, Aluminium Alloy, Co-Cr Alloy, Nickel Alloy, and Cuprum, etc. The networks with which you can connect to this printer are Ethernet, and TCP/IP.

Slicing software that you need to use with this printer is iSLM where is the data preparation software is the 3D layer and the data interface is CLI file, SLC file, and STL file.

PROS:
  • This printer specializes in producing good quality prints that have dimensional accuracy. You cannot easily see layers when the complete part or functional prototype is printed using this printer.
  • Since it is an industrial-grade 3D printer, you can continuously print and use it for mass production.
  • The laser system used in this printer is very effective and focused.
  • You can print various kinds of materials using this printer.

CONS:
  • Compared to printers in the same price range, the printer can be said to be expensive seeing the build volume that it produces.
  • Other SLM 3D printers in the same price range claim to produce a bigger build volume than this one.
  • You need to use the company specified slicing software.

Name of the industries where it is applicable

Tooling equipment, parts that are used in dentistry, and automotive can be printed using this printer.

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SLM 800

SLM 800Credit: slm-solutions.us

The printer comes with an extended z-axis build envelope that measures 500 mm x 280 mm x 850 mm. This printer is available in a quad-laser configuration with four 400 W or 700 W lasers.

For building large components efficiently this printer is used because it has build rates of up to 171cm3/h. The printer’s efficient build rate and large build envelope, in combination with its integrated powder handling and design freedom, has opened new possibilities for large-scale production parts.

The printer has a continuous stream through a sintered chamber wall. With this facility, there is enhanced gas flow creating the constant conditions at the work surface that is also protecting the beam entry glass from contamination to not hinder the lasers.

The SLM800 is equipped with a Permanent Filter Module which is used for further maintaining a clean process chamber resulting in consistent atmosphere conditions. These conditions ensure optimal build quality.

There are comprehensive processes that are for monitoring modules, laser Power, and Melt Pool. These ensure process transparency and documentation.

PROS:
  • Huge Built Volume of parts and functional prototypes.
  • Can print with multiple materials.
  • Comes with a permanent filter.
  • You can monitor multiple parts to ensure there isn’t a wrong printing process going on at any.
  • Excellent for mass production.

CONS:
  • Users of other technology are bound to find this printer very expensive

Name of the industries where it is applicable

Aerospace, Tooling, Medical, and Metal, Energy and Automotive.

The Conclusion

Whether you are a designer or a newbie looking to explore options available in the SLM 3D printer, this article will help you in a lot of ways. There is still a lot of scopes out there in the market as far as this technology is concerned.

If you are newbie, you’ll get to experiment a lot as the technology brings with itself a box full of surprises. And if you are already a designer and have worked with other technologies before, it’ll help hone your skills further with bigger challenges.

Any which ways you will have to know about this technology which is very important in 3D printing of parts and functional prototypes. So, best of luck with your experimentation in additive manufacturing. Keep generating!

Editorial Team

Stay updated on the recent happenings in 3D Printing and be the first to know when an awesome product hits the market.

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