What is stereolithography?
Stereolithography is an additive manufacturing process which employs a vat of liquid ultraviolet curable photopolymer "resin" and an ultraviolet laser to build parts' layers one at a time. For each layer, the laser beam traces a cross-section of the part pattern on the surface of the liquid resin. Exposure to the ultraviolet laser light cures and solidifies the pattern traced on the resin and joins it to the layer below.
After the pattern has been traced, the SLA's elevator platform descends by a distance equal to the thickness of a single layer. Then, a resin-filled blade sweeps across the cross section of the part, re-coating it with fresh material. On this new liquid surface, the subsequent layer pattern is traced, joining the previous layer. A complete 3-D part is formed by this process. After being built, parts are immersed in a chemical bath in order to be cleaned of excess resin and are subsequently cured in an ultraviolet oven.
Stereolithography requires the use of supporting structures which serve to attach the part to the elevator platform, prevent deflection due to gravity and hold the cross sections in place so that they resist lateral pressure from the re-coater blade. Supports are generated automatically during the preparation of 3D Computer Aided Design models for use on the stereolithography machine. Supports must be removed from the finished product manually.