Stereolithography or SLA is one of the most accurate printing processes in use today and has been around for nearly 30 years.
SLA additive manufacturing (AM) has become a go-to method for prototypes that require high detail and accuracy. The superior resolution of SLA makes this printing process ideal for replicating the surface finish of injection molded parts.
For these reasons, SLA has become an industry standard for prototyping parts prior to moving forward with costly injection mold making and part production.
The accuracy and appearance of SLA prints allow for an accurate representation of individual parts and also allows an engineer or designer to do a final check of assemblies comprised of injection molded parts to ensure proper fitment and operation.
Prototyping injection molded parts with SLA also helps to avert excessive costs in the design iteration process. Instead of manufacturing costly molds for producing only a limited number of parts in order to verify a design it is simple and cost efficient to print the part instead.
In some cases when the part is to be molded from a low-temperature thermoplastic this prototyping method can be reversed and a mold to make the finished part is printed using SLA.
Furthermore, SLA AM allows our customers to bring their product to market much faster than would be practical with traditional injection molded part manufacturing methods.
Although SLA can be the best method for prototyping injection molded parts it does have some drawbacks primarily with material strength and long-term durability. For these reasons, SLA is not ideal for prototypes that will see regular and hard use.
It is important to note that SLA materials are simulants meaning they have been engineered to perform similarly to actual thermoplastics like ABS for example.
These materials are an epoxy resin that is photoactivated. As a result, the materials are generally less durable than actual thermoplastics and will continue to activate when exposed to UV light. Because of this SLA parts are not ideal for outdoor use.
Injection mold prototyping is just one use case for SLA AM and this short article was just a brief overview. If you would like more information on SLA printing or see examples of printed parts click here.