I have used a professional FDM Style printer and I was one of those guys who had lots of issues with the printer (due to a move and my management being too cheap to pay someone to move it so we had our internal maintenance guys move it… not a good idea) My opinion between the two styles of printers is as follows:
- The SLA is way better resolution if you want detail this is far better than your traditional FDMs.
2)You need to follow proper orientation rules with SLA which limits you on being able to print something using a lower Z axis height like a FDM printer has no issues with. SLA printers do a peel process in which more surface area can create higher stress which can damage the print and the resin trays.
I have been able to print both very fine detail prints that are delicate that no FDM could ever print and I have printed large bulky mechanical parts all from the SLA with only minor issues.
FDM usually prints a ABS like material… I know there are more but SLA especially formlabs the resins are very particular. They are hard but very brittle one little micro crack and you will have a failed part my type of mechanics tend to come with impact breaking ask I have parts flying through a channel. Many have combated this short fall with SLA by mixing their own resins. I am still new to the SLA world and I have not tried that but there are many on this forum that have and had success.
While there may see like a lot of people on here have needed calibrations and had LASER issues from what I have see this is a small percentage of the total volume of sales. I have cleaned my mirrors once and I have not had any print issues that were not caused by my stupidity and carelessness. If there is a calibration that is needed it is simply to adjust the table build height up or down and then there is a setting to toggle in the x and y directions for the laser galvo mirrors. Again I have never needed to touch the calibrations since the day I opened the box. (about 4 months)
Material costs seem lower to me though I am running the SLA more than I was with my FDM. One Liter of Resin for U.S. residents is about $150 while for my FDM printer I was running 50 in^3 for about $260 per cartridge and would need both support material and building material. SLA printers use all the same material so it feels like I run through my material faster but that could just be the amount of printing I am doing now as well.
Build plates do not need to be replaced unless there is sever damage on the SLA machines as a matter of fact the little scrapes from removing the parts seem to help the print stick better to the build platform. My old FDM printer one plate would usually mean one print and you either had to spend the time to clean it with out damaging it or throw it away at a loss. I have only replaced my build platform once in my Form 1+ because my first one had a loose screw and was wiggling on the peel process causing bad parts.
The Resin Trays are another “consumable” for the SLA machines which in FDM terms I would compare to the Extruders, I have gone through about 6 trays in 4 months with my SLA machine since the LASER passes through the plate any defect or foggy spots will cause bad parts. Though I have found that RainX seems to increase the life and help prevent some fogging of the tank they still are a pain to clean and reuse with different materials. To which the FDM its a simple pull the plug and run the new stuff. Tanks can get expensive at $75 a tray but I remember not too long ago buying a set of extruders for $125 because I had material develop bubbles in the support lines and when the machine heated up those bubbles blew material all over the build head.
Lastly I have noticed being on this forum lots of people are running these machines in garages or shop floors where temps and air quality are inconsistent. These would not usually be an issue for FDM it seems from what people have been discussing here that it is a big issue with SLA resins.
In sort because I know I got long winded …
My reliability has been great with the SLA provided that I follow what I have learned here and from my own experiences there is a steep learning curve but it is manageable, as long as you have the desire to learn and have some common sense about printing you shouldn’t have too much of an issue.
Calibrations are easy to do within the software but I have not had to touch mine at all I have only had to clean the mirrors which was a task to do but it was nothing that I had any issues with.
Print quality is much higher but if you are planning on using it for mechanical or cyclically loaded parts you may have lots of failures. while mixing materials may result in better mechanics I cannot say it would work or not as I have not tried it. The parts seem brittle but it does take a lot to break them. Also you can use a UV blocking paint (clear acrylic spray paint) to keep the part from over hardening.
Unfortunately they both have their positives and negatives. I have done FDM printing for 7 years and SLA is a huge change but I have adjusted just fine and have not missed FDM yet. Just my opinion.