rapid prototyping techniques - SLA


SLA stands for “Stereolithography Apparatus”. This method is the most precise and detail oriented one – a real diamond in a crown of rapid prototyping techniques. A minimum feature size from .01” to .005” allows producing parts and components of unbelievable complexity. SLA parts require little cleaning, can be glued, drilled, screwed or machined. An assembly of such parts is the most precise as SLA resins, unlike curable resins, present practically zero shrinkage. Properly primed and painted SLA parts will live a long life and absolutely suitable to be included in any scale model, even a museum one. We have non-painted SLA samples being stored in our sample collection for over 10 years and not showing even a slightest sign of deterioration.

SLA technology is based on directing a focused UV laser beam across a vat of liquid thermostat resin. The resin is curing at a focus point of a laser beam. As the beam, driven by .stl 3D file, is moving across the liquid, a thin two-dimensional cross section layers are curing, building layer-upon-layer a solid plastic part. Upon completion a part is being washed up, dried and it is ready for assembly.

One of the many advantages of SLA is a variety of materials. SLA resins come clear and opaque, in different colors, with properties simulating ABS, Polypropylene or Polycarbonate. A color of opaque material might be not so important in model making as in most cases opaque parts are being painted, however properties of certain durable materials are desirable as well as an ability of producing complex clear parts.

An SLA bed vary from 10” x 10” x 10” high to 29” x 25” x 21” high, depending on system’s type. Larger parts can be built in sections and fused together.
A support structure is built from the same material in form of numerous very thin strings connected between themselves by crossed strings. In general, support structure reminds of bridge supports and it is easily removable from the actual part.

No doubt, SLA technique brought wonders to the modern professional model making. However, it has two disadvantages.
1. High cost. SLA resin itself, a machine time along with equipment’s maintenance are costly.
2. SLA resin is fragile. Drop an FDM produced ABS part and it will stay intact. Drop or hit an SLA part and it will shatter.

We are considering all the advantages and disadvantages of the SLA method, while selecting parts that will be produced by this technique. Nothing can replace SLA when we are in need of highly detailed, complex and precise part or component. Producing all parts by this technique, on the other hand, is unwise, due to a high cost. Whenever possible, we are looking for an alternative way in order to save our customer’s money and assigning parts to SLA machine only when we are sure there is no other choice.

It is also unwise to assign to SLA method parts that are participating in model’s structure and have to withstand a stress. Such parts are better to be produced by FDM or CNC. Even if such parts have details that will be lost in FDM or CNC, these detailed areas could be separated, produced by SLA and then being integrated into a part with higher durability.


Samples of the Parts produced by Stereolithography

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Unfinished SLA parts for the model of Trailer Mounted Antenna Mast

SLA built model of BAND-3 Antenna

Finished SLA built caps of Antenna Mast

Unfinished SLA parts for the model of Husky MRAP

Unfinished SLA chassis for the model of Husky MRAP

Finished all-SLA model of Husky MRAP

Finished SLA wheels & tires for the model of MaxxPro Dash MRAP

Unfinished SLA components of the model of International Space Station

SLA components of the model of International Space Station, finished

All-SLA built OGP-K turret for the model of up-armored HMMWV

SLA built SATCOM Antenna & hardware case for the model of up-armored HMMWV

Clear SLA lid for the model of a Generator's housing

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