What is Selective Laser Sintering Used For?

What is selective laser sintering 3D printing and what is it used for? These are questions we have been asked in the past. We have, therefore, created this question and answer guide on the topic, which we hope you find useful.

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Selective laser sintering has applications such as 3D printing of skeletal anatomy

What is selective laser sintering?

Selective laser sintering (often abbreviated to SLS) is a type of additive manufacturing process. The technology was established in the 1980s and has been commercially used since the 1990s. Unlike some other forms of additive manufacturing, SLS isn’t suited (in most cases) to residential use. This is because SLS is quite expensive to set-up and also could prove quite dangerous in a domestic setting.

SLS doesn’t involve metallic additive manufacturing, as metallic processing is either through direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) or selective laser melting. For more information including how SLS works read our additive manufacturing processes article.

Instead, SLS primarily works with polymers such as polyamides, polycarbonates, polystyrenes as well as thermoplastics.

Example of a complex artistic design printed through selective laser sintering

Example of a complex artistic design printed through selective laser sintering

What are some applications of selective laser sintering?

There are a wide range of selective laser sintering applications, we list some of them below:

  • Anatomical models – used often in healthcare and dental settings, anatomical models include dummies, pre-operative planning models and training aids
  • Architecture – benefitting again from modelling, Architects readily adopt SLS. This process can be used to create designs of villages, estates, buildings, landscapes, office layouts, furniture, etc.
  • Art – SLS can be used in creating pieces of art. The process can produce awkward and complex designs, which work well in certain art disciplines (e.g. sculptures and monuments).
  • Design verification – SLS can frequently be used to rapidly create models, parts and components, which can be used to verify engineering designs
  • Fashion – the fashion industry has accepted SLS as a valuable tool. Clothing can be produced in one piece (i.e. require no stitching and costly assembly). In some cases, clothes are custom-made to a customer’s precise body measurements. In addition, there is no waste material, as clothing is printed to the exact specifications needed
  • First to market – SLS is often used to beat the competition and be the “first to market” with a new product, this is mainly due to the rapid prototyping benefits mentioned below.
  • Living hinges – the creation of living hinges using materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene. SLS is a much-improved process compared to traditional injection moulding techniques to produce living hinges.
  • Parts manufacturing – in a diversity of materials, in industries such as aerospace and automotive, in particular
  • Patterns – including mould inserts, casting and foundry patterns, etc. without the need for costly tooling
  • Product testing – performance evaluation and sometimes environment testing (e.g. temperature)
  • Prosthetics – SLS is perfect for producing prosthetics and orthodontic parts, as well as items such as cranial implants
  • Rapid (on demand) manufacturing – SLS enables items to be rapidly manufactured across a range of industries. This is often also called “parts on demand”, which is exactly what SLS can deliver. This proves majorly beneficial to many businesses cash flow as they don’t have to keep as much stock as was historically the case. Even complex components such as ECS ducts can be manufactured through SLS
  • Rapid prototyping – including proof of concepts, functional prototyping, early concept models and physical models for design evaluation purposes
  • Short production runs – producing parts which are required in small quantities, maybe limited editions or country variant models or perhaps personalised gifts and samples. This can also apply to niche industries, e.g. formula 1 specific components in automotive
  • Wind tunnel test models – these are complex items to make and often need to be rapidly developed. Simulating real world, wind conditions, models for use in wind tunnels can be printed off quickly once the 3D designs have been created
  • Tooling production – including jigs, fixtures and a variety of tooling

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You may also enjoy reading the following related articles from SPI Lasers:

Contact SPI Lasers to discuss SLS and additive manufacturing

Laser sintering 3D printing is one of numerous additive manufacturing processes, which in turn is one of the many laser applications you can complete with our pulsed and continuous wave Fiber Lasers. As well as additive manufacturing, our Fiber Lasers can also be used to deliver ablation, cleaning, cutting, drilling, engraving, marking and welding too.

Contact SPI Lasers now by calling +44(0)1489 779696, for friendly and informative advice on how to implement selective laser sintering and other additive manufacturing processes into your organisation. When you buy an SPI Laser, you invest in versatility!


Image Credit: Mike Cogh


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