Additive manufacturing (AM) of polymeric materials offers many benefits, from rapid prototyping to the production of end-use material parts. Powder bed fusion (PBF), more specifically selective laser sintering (SLS), is a very promising AM technology. However, up until now, most SLS research has been directed toward polyamide powders. In addition, only basic models have been put forward that are less directed to the identification of the most suited operating conditions in a sustainable production context. In the present combined experimental and theoretical study, the impacts of several SLS processing parameters (e.g., laser power, part bed temperature, and layer thickness) are investigated for a thermoplastic elastomer polyester by means of colorimetric, morphological, physical, and mechanical analysis of the printed parts. It is shown that an optimal SLS processing window exists in which the printed polyester material presents a higher density and better mechanical properties as well as a low yellowing index, specifically upon using a laser power of 17-20 W. It is further highlighted that the current models are not accurate enough at predicting the laser power at which thermal degradation occurs. Updated and more fundamental equations are therefore proposed, and guidelines are formulated to better assess the laser power for degradation and the maximal temperature achieved during sintering. This is performed by employing the reflection and absorbance of the laser light and taking into account the particle size distribution of the powder material.
Keywords: 3D printing; additive manufacturing; degradation; energy density; laser sintering.