As SLA 3D printers become faster, easier to use, handle multiple materials, and print active components or systems, they will find use beyond rapid prototyping.
The technology for SLA 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has existed in some form since the 1980s. However, the technology has not been capable enough or cost-effective for most end-product or high-volume commercial manufacturing. Expectations are running high that these shortcomings are about to change.
Several technology trends are feeding these expectations. An emerging class of mid-level SLA 3D printers is starting to offer many high-end system features in a desktop form factor at lower price points. Printer speeds are increasing across the product spectrum; at least one high-end system under development could print up to 500 times faster than today’s top machines. And key patents are about to expire, a development likely to hasten the pace of innovation.
In a recent PwC survey of more than 100 industrial manufacturers, two-thirds were already using SLA 3D printing. (See Figure 1.)