Stereolithography: What Is It and What Is It Used For?

Everyone has been there. You buy something and try to put it together, but the parts don’t fit right. Maybe the piece isn’t right, or maybe it was just made poorly. Wouldn’t it be easier if you could make all the parts you need yourself with exact specifications?

Stereolithography allows you to do just that. Keep reading to learn all about what is it and what it can be used for.

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What Is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a method of manufacturing that almost anyone can use to make all sorts of products. It is similar to conventional printing in that it builds up a structure layer by layer, but instead of a 2D image, it builds a three-dimensional object.

The type of plastic used is called a photopolymer resin. This means that the plastic hardens when light, usually in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, hits it. To start off, a platform is submerged in a container of liquid plastic.

It starts barely submerged, with a thin layer of plastic above it. Then, an ultraviolet laser traces a pattern in the plastic causing the parts that it hits to harden. This is the first layer of the 3D model.

After the first layer has hardened, the platform lowers, bringing a new layer of liquid plastic to the top. The laser then draws out a pattern again for the second layer. This process is repeated until the entire 3D object is made.

Once the object is finished, the platform rises up and any excess liquid plastic is rinsed off. Then, more ultraviolet hits the object in an oven of sorts to make sure the plastic has fully hardened.

What Is a CAD program?

Before an object can be built using stereolithography, the laser has to know what patterns to make for each layer. A computer-aided design, or CAD, program can help to design each product.

CAD is a way to visualize and design a product before it is even made and finds use in a wide variety of applications. Before you build an object with a 3D printer, you can build a virtual model to see what you want it to look like.

You will be able to see what your product will look like from all angles and control exactly where each piece is. You can build up a model with very exact specifications to give you exactly the product you’re looking for.

After building the model in a CAD program, you will have to create a file that the stereolithography system can read.

Your 3D printer will then read the file and guide the laser to draw the pattern on each layer of your object corresponding with what you built in the CAD program.

There are many types of CAD programs for different applications. You can download some for free, but a more specialized design will likely require a purchase.

What Is Stereolithography Used For?

Stereolithography has many uses in various industries. Any company that needs to make prototypes will find it useful.

Even though these systems can only print in plastic, it is sometimes useful to have a plastic model of a part or object before spending the money and resources to make a final product.

This technology can make very clear objects which makes it useful for creating things like lenses and bottles. They can even be painted or plated with metals to be more in line with what a finished product might look like.

It is incredibly robust because it makes durable products with very high precision. It also makes products that are very isotropic, meaning they have the same properties at every part, unlike some other methods of 3D printing.

Any applications where a part or product needs to be watertight or airtight such as inflow testing and wind tunnel modeling find good use in stereolithography.

They can also build products with smooth surfaces whereas other methods tend to leave visible lines where the different layers were created.

From manufacturing and engineering design to healthcare and entertainment, stereolithography can fulfill a wide variety of applications.

Next Steps

Now that you know all about how stereolithography works and its uses, feel free to contact us for more information about how we can help with your next project. If you enjoyed this article, please share or check out some of our other great content!

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