Selective laser sintering (SLS) is an additive manufacturing technique able to rapidly create parts directly from a CAD model using a laser to selectively fuse successive layers of powder. However, defects can arise in SLS parts due to incomplete fusion of the powder layers or thermal stresses introduced by large temperature gradients during the part build. Accurate models of the SLS process are needed to ensure that high quality parts are produced and to allow new materials and designs to be used without requiring extensive experimentation. Most existing models of the SLS process are very narrowly focused, predicting the temperature history of a single powder layer after a single laser pass or examining the impact of a few processing parameters on the properties of the produced part. A model capable of predicting a complete temperature history during an entire part build does not yet exist. Therefore, a new thermal model able to simulate multiple powder layers is proposed.
A transient, three-dimensional, finite volume model is developed and implemented in ANSYS Fluent. A domain of cells representing multiple layers of an SLS build is initialized, some with the properties of air and some with the properties of powder, depending on cell location. A Gaussian heat source representing the laser is applied to the top layer of powder cells. The center of the Gaussian is varied with time along an established path to simulate the motion of the laser along the powder bed. At all times the three-dimensional heat equation is solved to produce a temperature profile of the powder bed. When the laser completes a full scan of the powder layer, the air cells directly above the powder layer are re-initialized as powder cells and re-set to an initial temperature, representing the addition of a new powder layer. The process is repeated for each new layer. Temperature history results from the model are validated against experimental data available in the literature and good agreement is obtained. As the model accounts for multiple powder layers, it can be used to simulate an entire part build and predict the impact of any of the SLS processing parameters on part quality and thus enable better control and optimization of the SLS process.