Compact SLS 3D printers from Poland are changing the market

It is not a coincidence that countries like Poland have a lot to say in the 3D printing world. With over thirty years of economic freedom, Polish companies joined the high-tech sectors of the economy. Additive manufacturing is one of them.

A large number of technical universities releasing talented engineers, combined with investments from Western Europe, gave a spark to the birth of many start-ups. Sinterit, known for producing compact SLS 3D printers, was one of them. Now the “start-up” era is long gone, and with an impressive production line, and over a thousand of its 3D printers installations worldwide, Sinterit set the standards for compact SLS 3D printers branch.

In 2014, when the company was settled, it wasn’t the obvious idea for 3D printing companies to produce SLS 3D printers. Cheap FDM 3D printers were celebrating their best years, and new companies were joining this sector. But for Michal, Konrad, and Pawel, three co-founders of Sinterit, the future was in making advanced and best-in-class technologies, like SLS, available for almost everyone. In 2014, the SLS patent expired, and that opened new possibilities for companies like Sinterit.

This technology requires much more advanced knowledge about using a laser and controlling the temperature, but at the same time, it gives users the greatest possibilities. SLS technology has been used for years by the most advanced technology companies around the world. Almost complete lack of physical and geometric limitations (prints from SLS printers do not need supporting structures, unlike FDM or SLA technologies), high precision and durability of prints made SLS a basic work tool for engineers and R&D departments. Unfortunately, unlike FDM and SLA printers, the barrier was the high price, which did not go below 100,000 euros for the smallest printers available. The year 2014 turned out to be a breakthrough because it was then that the patent expired, and thanks to this, companies such as Sinterit were able to introduce new, more accessible solutions to the market.

In 2015, the Lisa model, the most compact SLS printer in the world, was presented for a price of 5,000 euros. This opened the door for small businesses to the world of innovative technologies. For 5% of the value of the cheapest industrial SLS printer, they received the same technology and quality. The only downside was the long printing time and a small working area. However, these were only apparent weaknesses. For companies that previously had to outsource 3D printing from external companies, printing time using the Lisa printer was a solution several times faster, and the unattended process meant that engineers used weekends for printing, thanks to which the models they worked on during the week were printed during their absence, so that already on Monday they were ready for testing and possible corrections.

After three years, a larger printer, Lisa PRO, hit the market, which not only opened up to companies that needed to print larger elements but also set new directions for the development of Sinterit by introducing a wide range of materials. To this day, most SLS printer manufacturers dedicate their solutions to one or two types of materials. Lisa PRO had a built-in nitrogen chamber, which by changing the printing environment made it possible to experiment with a whole range of materials. Sinterit offers nine different powders, but with the launch of Lisa PRO, the company has given its customers the ability to print from their own materials, not necessarily sourced from the company’s store. This unique solution is especially popular at universities, where testing new materials was not previously possible on such a large scale and at low costs.

While Sinterit was the undeniable world leader in the segment of compact SLS printers until last year, for many years the American company Formlabs, known for the production of SLA printers, has been working on its answer for many years. Fuse 1, announced in 2016, took five years to reach its first customers, which happened in March 2021.

The real revolution took place in the fall, when two long-awaited Sinterit printers appeared on the market – Lisa X, the fastest and largest compact printer in the company’s offer, and NILS 480 – the first SLS printer of the polish company intended for industry. Industry watchers have judged this to be a response to FUSE 1, which came out a few months earlier. However, the truth is more complex. Before the appearance of new printers, Sinterit installed over a thousand of its solutions around the world, thanks to which it was able to collect feedback from users, which supported the process of creating new printers.

Interestingly, it turned out that for many people, it is not the printer itself that is important, but a complete system, starting from software that allows the most effective placement of prints in the printer chamber, to effective tools for post-processing of printed parts and recovery of unused powder. This is also one of the advantages of SLS technology – the powder, which is not sintered during printing, but only serves as a support for printed models, can be reused after appropriate refreshing.

Chemists working on the Sinterit’s powder blends obtained very good results, thanks to which their powder does not need too much refresher, which makes material recovery high, and subsequent prints are very economical.

Sinterit has over 100 employees and is growing fast. It has moved to the new, bigger facility just before the Covid-19 pandemics, and take the time of a global slowdown for an intense R&D work. The experience related to the coronavirus epidemic, which cut supply chains, meant that Sinterit has built an extensive base of local suppliers, thanks to which almost all semi-finished products needed to build printers are created in Poland, and printers are made entirely in Krakow, which is worth remembering in uncertain times.

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