Here are the basics on some of the more popular consumer-available 3D printing processes, their benefits and drawbacks- and what type of blade gear they make sense for producing.

FDM/FFF (Fused Deposit Modeling/Fused Filament Fabrication)

This is the cheapest and most widely available 3D printing technique, wherein a spool of plastic is additively melted to create a form. Materials: PLA (polylactic acid), ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), Nylon (polyamide), Polycarbonate, etc.

Potential Applications

  • Soul Plates
  • Buckles
  • Frames
  • Boots

PRO

  • Inexpensive printer hardware
  • Widely available
  • Easy to use/learn/get started with
  • Cheap consumables

CON

  • Not that strong without heat treatment/chemical post-processing. Still less durable than injection molded plastic.
  • Slow: 10+ hours for a frame

SLS (Selective Laser Sintering)

Plastic (usually nylon/polyamide) powder is mechanically spread and built into fine layers that are melted together by a laser.

Potential Applications

  • Soul Plates
  • Buckles
  • Frames
  • Boots

PRO

  • Potentially stronger/less prone to delamination than FDM/FFF plastic prints
  • High resolution finish

CON

  • Not widely available as an end-consumer process; parts must be printed by/ordered from a third party
  • Somewhat expensive; very expensive printer hardware

SLM (Selective Laser Melting)

Metal powder is mechanically spread and built into fine layers that are melted together by a laser.

PRO

  • Printed metal??!?!?!?

CON

  • Parts must be printed by/ordered from a third party
  • Requires an expensive high power laser; very expensive, even when provided as a service

SLA/SL (Stereolithography)

Photoreactive resin is continuously cured by UV light and fixed in a post-printing chemical bath.

Potential Applications

  • Small parts: buckles, antirocker wheels

PRO

  • Parts are high resolution, have a smooth finish without cleanup and are dimensionally accurate

CON

  • Not that strong
  • Most machines cannot print large parts

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) Milling

The opposite of printing: material is programmatically, subtractively sculpted by a drill bit.

PRO

  • Much faster than printing
  • Can shape virtually any type or strength of material

CON

  • Steep, less lazy learning curve than printing: requires an understanding of manual operations
  • Expensive relative to FDM/FFF printing, with some affordable turnkey/DIY options becoming available
  • Some designs are not possible to produce, such as those with enclosed cavities

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