Benefits and Limitations of Popular AM Technologies

Comprehensive table lists the ups and downs of the most common additive manufacturing processes.

June 25, 2018
Mike McLeod

The Benefits and Limitations of Popular AM Technologies
Stereolithography (SLA)
With superior accuracy and strength, SLA is ideal for highly detailed and intricately designed parts.
Benefits Limitations
  • Fast
  • Great value
  • High accuracy
  • Large capacity
  • Virtually limitless part size
  • Smooth surface finish
  • Strong enough to be machined if required
  • Best for rapid prototyping of concept and designer models
  • Brittle
  • Smaller material selection
  • Requires printed supports
  • Products are UV sensitive
  • Not for functional part or production line
Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
With superior accuracy and strength, SLA is ideal for highly detailed and intricately designed parts.
Benefits Limitations
  • Fast turnaround times (short lead times)
  • Affordable
  • Wide range of materials and colours
  • Most common printer type
  • Best for hobbyists and some small prototypes
  • Low dimensional accuracy and resolution
  • Limited design compatibility
  • Print layers are likely to be visible, requiring post-processing
  • Generally requires printed supports
  • Slow build rate
  • Not for high impact parts
Material Jetting (MJ)
MJ produces parts with high dimensional accuracy with a smooth surface finish, making it ideal for realistic visual and haptic prototypes.
Benefits Limitations
  • Fast
  • Smooth parts with surfaces comparable to injection molding
  • Very high dimensional accuracy, resolution
  • Homogeneous mechanical and thermal properties
  • Accurate visual and haptic prototypes
  • Many materials, texture and colours (option for multi-material 3D printing)
  • Expensive
  • Weak material
  • Requires supports
  • Poor mechanical properties
  • Photosensitive and mechanical properties degrade over time
Binder Jetting (BJ)
Binder Jetting is ideal for 3D printing full-color, metal components and large gypsum, sand casting molds.
Benefits Limitations
  • Fast
  • Produces metal parts and full-color prototypes
  • Fraction of the cost of other AM technologies
  • Very large parts and complex metal geometries
  • Not limited by any thermal effects
  • Low to medium batch production
  • Brittle
  • Low mechanical properties
  • Higher porosity
  • Requires post processing
  • Limited material selection
Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
SLS is suited for fully functional prototypes and series of small components, as well as complex, highly durable plastic parts.
Benefits Limitations
  • Good, isotropic mechanical properties
  • Requires no support
  • Design freedom for complex components
  • Ideal for functional parts and prototypes
  • Small to medium batch production
  • Generally longer lead times
  • Grainy surface finish, internal porosity
  • Requires post-processing
  • Large, flat surfaces and holes are not printed accurately
  • More expensive, less accessible
Direct Laser Metal Sintering (DLMS)
DMLS/SLM prints high performance, end-use metal parts with complex structures for industrial applications.
Benefits Limitations
  • Stronger than cast parts
  • Complex geometries
  • Part weight reduction
  • No tooling, reducing cost
  • High accuracy in fine details
  • Exotic and expensive to machine metals
  • Produces parts that are otherwise not manufacturable
  • Rough finish
  • Limited part size
  • Slow build speed
  • Lower tolerance than machining
  • Generally more expensive than machining and most other AM technologies
  • Parts should be designed for additive manufacturing
Other 3D Printing Technologies
Digital Light Processing (DLP)
+Highly-accurate layers in just seconds
– Requires support structures for integrity
Continuous Digital Light Processing (CDLP)
+ High-speed, accurate 3D printing
– Potential for distorted build surface
NanoParticle Jetting (NPJ)
+ High resolution and density
– Tech is expensive; Low material selection
Multi Jet Fusion (MJF)
+ Fast; Improved detailed output
– Limited material selection
Electron Beam Melting (EBM)
+ Design flexibility and cost effective
– Requires post-processing
Laser Engineered Net Shape (LENS)
+ Completely dense and can be used to repair parts
– Severe overhangs; Post processing required
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM)
+ Fast and cost-effective for large metal parts
– Requires more post-processing; Sacrifices accuracy for speed
Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
+ Fast; Improved detailed output
– Limited material selection