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Object printed in laser sintering machine. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/MarinaGrigorivna

DMLS vs. SLM: Differences and Comparison

Learn about the differences between these two 3D printing technologies.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
July 15, 2022
 7 min read
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DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) and SLM (Selective Laser Melting) are two very similar powder bed fusion (PBF) technologies. Each technique melts a specified pattern of metal powder using laser beams. By repeating this process in successive layers, the machines build up complex parts, often using advanced metal alloys. DMLS is a trademark of EOS while SLM is a trademark of SLM Solutions. Both technologies fully melt metal powder instead of sintering it the way most metal 3D printing technologies do.

This article will compare DMLS vs. SLM in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, materials, and printing technology.

DMLS Definition and Comparison to SLM

DMLS is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology that is used to manufacture metal parts. The EOS company owns the trademark and first commercialized the technology in 1995. DMLS is often referred to as a sintering technology, and indeed, the first generation of DMLS machines did only sinter the metal. According to EOS, however, DMLS is a German acronym (Direkt Metall Laser Schmelzen) that more properly translates as melting rather than sintering. The modern printers do fully melt their metal powder, thus creating stronger parts. 

This process works by selectively melting a metal or metal alloy powder with a high-powered laser beam (typically a fiber laser). The laser beam traces out the cross-section of each layer and melts the metal particles together. After each layer, the print bed moves down and another layer of metal powder is applied. While printing, the DMLS build chamber is filled with inert gas to prevent oxidation. A typical EOS DMLS machine is shown in the image below:

Slide 1 of 1
dmls machine
dmls machine
dmls machine

A typical DMLS machine.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Moreno Soppelsa

What Are the Advantages of DMLS Compared to SLM?

Listed below are some key advantages of DMLS vs.SLM:

  • The tightly focused DMLS laser creates highly accurate, detailed parts.
  • DMLS can accept a wider range of materials than SLM.

What Are the Disadvantages of DMLS Compared to SLM?

Listed below are some key disadvantages of DMLS vs.SLM:

  • DMLS prints slower than SLM because it operates at lower power and uses fewer lasers.
  • The lower-powered DMLS lasers can only create small melt pools so they cannot print thick layers. 

SLM Definition and Comparison to DMLS

Selective laser melting is a powder bed fusion 3D printing technology that is used to manufacture metal parts. Like DMLS, SLM debuted in 1995. It was ultimately commercialized by a company called SLM solutions. SLM uses a laser to selectively melt the metal powder. The laser is high-powered, so it very quickly liquifies any metal powder it contacts. The laser beam traces out the part’s cross-sectional layer, melting metal particles together as it goes. After each layer, the print bed moves down and another layer of metal powder is applied. The SLM build chamber must be filled with an inert gas while it operates. SLM is very similar to DMLS but employs higher-powered lasers. A typical SLM machine is shown in the image below:

Slide 1 of 1
slm machine
slm machine
slm machine

A typical SLM machine.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/ID1974

What Are the Advantages of SLM Compared to DMLS?

Listed below are some key advantages of SLM vs. DMLS:

  • SLM can vary its laser size to optimize for either resolution or print speed.
  • SLM makes use of multiple high-powered lasers to dramatically improve the speed of printing. The premier DMLS machines make use of only 4 lasers while SLM ones employ up to 12.

What Are the Disadvantages of SLM Compared to DMLS?

Listed below are some key disadvantages of SLM vs.DMLS:

  • Because SLM is a higher temperature process, its printed parts often end up with internal stresses.
  • SLM machines are designed for high-volume industrial use, so they are extremely expensive.

Comparison Table Between DMLS and SLM

The table below lists some of the more common properties of DMLS vs. SLM:

AttributeSLMDMLS
Attribute

Laser point diameter

SLM

80 to 160 microns

DMLS

40 microns (for smaller machines)

Attribute

Number of lasers

SLM

Machines with 1, 4, and 12 beams are available 

DMLS

4

Attribute

Variable layer thickness and laser point diameter

SLM

Yes

DMLS

No

Attribute

Minimum feature size

SLM

140 microns

DMLS

100 microns

Attribute

Has isotropic material properties

SLM

Yes

DMLS

Yes

Attribute

Parts need to be cooled after printing

SLM

Yes

DMLS

Yes

Attribute

Parts need support structures

SLM

Yes

DMLS

Yes

Attribute

Largest print volume

SLM

600 x 600 x 600 mm

DMLS

400 x 400 x 400 mm

Table 1. DMLS vs. SLM Comparison

DMLS vs. SLM: Technology Comparison

DMLS and SLM are both powder bed fusion technologies that melt the metal powder using lasers. SLM units typically contain higher-powered lasers than do DMLS (1000 watts vs 400 watts). The output power of those SLM lasers can also be varied to alter the part’s detail resolution.

DMLS vs. SLM: Material Comparison

DMLS and SLM can print in a wide range of metals and metal alloys. Typical examples include: titanium Ti64, stainless steel 316, and nickel alloys like NI718.

DMLS vs. SLM: Product Applications Comparison

DMLS is marketed extensively in the medical industry for items such as implants and dental bridges. SLM, on the other hand, serves a broader range of industries such as automotive and aerospace.

DMLS vs. SLM: Print Volume Comparison

SLM machines typically have larger build volumes when compared to DMLS. Their multiple lasers also help them exploit the space more efficiently.

DMLS vs. SLM: Surface Finish Comparison

Both technologies create similar surface finishes because they operate on the same powder bed fusion principle.

DMLS vs. SLM: Cost Comparison

The manufacturers of both SLM and DMLS offer a wide range of machines. However, the entry-level version of either type typically costs more than $350,000. Because it employs more lasers and can print thicker layers, SLM systems can finish lower-resolution jobs much quicker than DMLS. Faster print time results in lower cost per part.

What Are the Mutual Alternatives to the DMLS and SLM?

SLM and DMLS are not entirely unique. There is one alternative technology that can achieve similar results:

  • EBM: EBM (Electron Beam Melting) bears similarities to both DMLS and SLM. It is another powder bed fusion technology that uses a beam of energy to melt the powder. However, EBM technology does so using an electron particle beam instead of a laser beam.

What Are the Similarities Between DMLS and SLM?

Listed below are some of the similarities between DMLS vs. SLM.

  1. DMLS and SLM both use a laser beam to melt powdered metal.
  2. DMLS and SLM can use many different metal powders to produce parts.
  3. Both technologies can employ multiple lasers at once to increase the production rate.

What Are the Other Comparisons for DMLS Besides SLM?

An alternative technology to DMLS is:

  • DMLS vs. Binder Metal Jetting: Binder Metal Jetting binds metal powder together using a polymer binder. The binder is applied in the shape of the part cross-section. Then, as with DMLS, another layer of powder is added on top and the process repeats. When the part is complete, it must be post-processed to sinter/fuse the metal powder together and burn off the binder.

What Are the Other Comparisons for SLM Besides DMLS?

Aside from DMLS, another alternative technology to SLM is:

  • SLM vs. DED: DED (Directed-energy deposition) is a metal printing technology that feeds a metal wire through a printing nozzle. The metal is melted at the nozzle and deposited on the build plate layer by layer, similar to FDM printing. This produces parts that have homogenous mechanical properties.

Summary

This article summarized the differences between DMLS and SLM 3D printing technologies.

To learn more about DMLS vs. SLM and to help select the perfect technology for your products, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry offers a full range of 3D printing services for your project needs. Visit our Instant Quote Engine to get a free, no-obligation quote in minutes.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.