Selective Laser Sintering (SLS®)


Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)  is the rapid prototyping technology of choice for a range of functional prototype applications, including those with snap fits, living hinges and other mechanical joints. The ability of SLS to produce several pieces at one time also makes the process a good choice for Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) of products requiring strength and heat resistance.

Need Rapid Prototyping of snap fits, living hinges or other mechanical joints?
SLS is the technology of choice for durable, functional parts.

SLS technology uses a laser to harden and bond small grains of plastic, ceramic, glass, metal (we talk in a different article about direct metal sintering), or other materials into layers in a 3D dimensional structure. The laser traces the pattern of each cross section of the 3D design onto a bed of powder. After one layer is built, the bed lowers and another layer is built on top of the existing layers. The bed then continues to lower until every layer is built and the part is complete.

One of the major benefits of SLS is that it doesn’t require the support structures that many other AM technologies use to prevent the design from collapsing during production. Since the product lies in a bed of powder, no supports are necessary. This characteristic alone, while also conserving materials, means that SLS is capable of producing geometries that no other technology can. In addition, we don’t have to worry about damaging the part while removing supports and we can build complex interior components and complete parts. As a result, we can save time on assembly. As with other AM technologies, there’s no need to account for the problem of tool clearance—and thus the need for joints—that subtractive methods often encounter. So we can make previously impossible geometries, cut down on assembly time and alleviate weak joints.

SLS really shines when you need plastic parts that will last. SLS is capable of producing highly durable parts for real-world testing and mold making, while other additive manufacturing methods may become brittle over time. Because SLS parts are so robust, they rival those produced in traditional manufacturing methods like injection molding and are already used in a variety of end-use applications, like automotive and aerospace.

(View video to the left to see how SLS 3D printing works.)
Considering its robustness and capability to produce complex whole parts, SLS can bring major time and cost benefits for small-run parts that would usually require some assembly with traditional manufacturing. It’s a perfect marriage of functionality, strength and complexity. We can produce parts faster and cut down on the time required to put them together. But we can also produce fewer parts, as SLS parts tend to stand up better to wear and environmental conditions. Especially for mass customization for certain low-volume end-use parts, SLS blows traditional manufacturing out of the water because there is no expensive and inefficient retooling to worry about. One of the other big things with SLS, as we’ll see with many other additive manufacturing technologies, is it allows us to store and reproduce parts and molds, using data that will never corrode, get lost in transportation or require expensive storage. The designs are always available and ready to be produced when we need them, even if the original is unavailable.

One way we can think about the uses for SLS parts is in terms of the materials it uses. Styrene-based materials are great for making castings—in plaster, titanium, aluminum and more—and are compatible with most standard foundry processes. SLS also can create impact-resistant engineering plastic that’s great for low- to mid-volume end-use parts, like enclosures, snap-fit parts, automotive moldings and thin-walled ducting. Engineering plastic can also be made with flame retardant material, to fit aircraft and consumer product requirements, or gas-filled material for greater stiffness and heat resistance. There’s even fiber reinforced plastic for ultimate stiffness, and, on the other end of the spectrum, rubber-like material for flexible parts, like hoses, gaskets, grip padding and more.

Anatomy of the SLS Process

Anatomy of the SLS Process

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing technology developed under sponsorship by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and acquired in 2001 by 3D Systems. The SLS process employs a high power laser to fuse plastic powders layer by layer into  finished prototypes and functional end-use components. (Read More)

  • Aluminum-Filled (PA12-AL)
  • Impact-Resistant Nylon (Duraform EX)
  • Nylon (Duraform PA)
  • Glass-Filled Nylon (Duraform GF)
  • Rubber-Like (Duraform Flex Plastic)
  • Bead Blasting
  • CA Dip Coated
  • Nickel Plated
  • Painted

Rapid Manufacturing
•  Aerospace Hardware
•  UAS, UAV, UUV, UGV Hardware
•  Medical and Healthcare
•  Electronics; Packaging, Connectors
•  Homeland Security
•  Military Hardware

Rapid Prototypes • Functional Proof of Concept Prototypes
•  Design Evaluation Models (Form, Fit & Function)
•  Product Performance & Testing
•  Engineering Design Verification
•  Wind-Tunnel Test Models

Tooling and Patterns • Rapid Tooling (concept development & bridge tools)
•  Injection Mold Inserts
•  Tooling and Manufacturing Estimating Visual Aid
•  Investment Casting Patterns
•  Jigs and Fixtures
•  Foundry Patterns – Sand Casting


•  Durable, functional parts with high complex geometries
•  Ideal for parts with high heat requirements or chemical resistance
•  Capable of producing parts with mechanical joints, snap fits or living hinges
•  Wide variety of materials and post processing options
•  Short lead times

Case Studies
Every sport has specific rules and specific equipment, yet despite no two players being exactly alike, much of their gear is. As 3D technologies become more available and…
3D printing, with its amazing versatility, has the ability to create the perfect junction, to create harmony. 3D Systems explores ways to apply these connections for the…
In an industry that typically values confidential files and closed-door meetings, Advanced Aerials is doing things a little differently. They’re raising the curtain on Unmanned…
  Customer: Élan Motorsports Technologies (EMT), part of the Panoz group of companies, is one of the world’s leading motor sports technology companies. 
Robert Yost can identify with Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor who advocated AC to Thomas Edison’s DC electrical power. Like Tesla, Yost has a lofty vision: Using very small…
Joe Carmody takes pride in all of his company’s 3D printing work for Nissan Motorsports (NISMO), but his biggest passion is direct digital manufacturing of parts that sometimes go…
When most companies consider an equipment purchase, a big concern is how quickly the equipment will pay for itself. Fortunately, when The Boeing Company’s air vehicle design…
When agricultural and construction equipment giant Case New Holland (CNH), of New Holland, Pa., wanted to bring solid imaging technology in-house, it performed a thorough…
Cheetah Tool Systems develops and manufactures high-speed blind rivet fastening systems. They used 3D Systems SLS® Technology to design and build durable, light-weight production…
There’s a moment that every industrial designer dreads: When his or her ideal design bumps up against manufacturing reality. Confederate Motors has faced that moment many times in…
For many industries throughout the world, 3D printing has become the go-to technology for rapid prototyping of parts and assemblies. But despite success in automotive racing,…
Kvaerner is always trying to lower its electric bill. And who can blame them? Each month this Anglo- Norwegian engineering and construction company consumes massive amounts of…
Designing new products for the medical industry poses many challenges. For starters, there’s pressure to bring the new products to market quickly. Another challenge is making sure…
Crittercam was envisioned and invented by marine biologist and filmmaker Greg Marshall. National Geographic introduced the first generation of the Crittercam back in 1987 and has…
On Site Gas Systems designs and builds nitrogen and oxygen gas-generating systems that are employed by dozens of industries. From oil and gas, to beverage and medical, to chemical…
Elan Motorsports needed help developing a fuel manifold. A complex part, and the harsh tank environment were challenges facing EMT. A new manifold, created using SLS Material, was…
State-of-the-art rapid prototyping technology has helped power Australian automotive designers to global prominence with GM Australia’s Design Studio scoring major honours at the…
The prototyping service bureau C.ideas, Inc. has been known amongst its peers as a 3D printing expert for 3D Systems’ SLA, MJM and ProJet technologies, with full finishing…
Engineered Machined Products Inc. (EMP) of Escanaba, Mich., is the largest diesel pump manufacturer in the U.S. and one of the fastest growing manufacturing companies in Michigan…
The Lighter, Better UAV Achieving unprecedented weight-to-strength ratios in the T-Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle with 3D printed production parts by Paramount Industries, now part…
THE OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY FORMULA SAE TEAM used 3D Systems’ Selective Laser Sintering (SLS®) technology for an efficient intake system in its Formula-style race car.    In the…
The Oregon State University Formula SAE team used 3D Systems’ Selective Laser Sintering (SLS®) technology for an efficient intake system in its Formula-style race car.In the past…