What Is FDM 3D Printing And How Does It Work?

What Is FDM 3D Printing & How Does It Work

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) is one of the most widely used 3D printing technologies available today. It’s a process that involves creating a three-dimensional object layer by layer using a thermoplastic material. It has become increasingly popular due to its ease of use, dimensional accuracy, affordability, and versatility.

In this article, we will explore what FDM 3D printing is, its key technical specifications and characteristics, how it works, and what makes it different from other types of 3D printing technology. We’ll also discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using an FDM printer compared to other methods and take a closer look at some real-world applications for this exciting technology.

How FDM 3D Printing Works

The manufacturing processes of fused deposition modelling (FDM) often begins with the creation of a 3D model on a computer-aided design (CAD) package. This digital file is then converted from its native format into an STL file and then sliced in Slicing software that parses the file into G-Code. It is then uploaded onto the FDM printer, which reads it and starts building the object.

The FDM printer utilises a spool of Thermoplastic Filament, which it extrudes though either a Bowden tube to the Hot-end or directly into the Hot-end itself. The Hot-end contains a precisely drilled nozzle at the exit and a heating element within. As the Thermoplastic filament passes through the Hot-end, it melts and turns into a molten liquid which is then forced out of the nozzle at a precise flow rate. As the liquid plastic meets either the printer bed or previous plastic layer it cools down, often with the aid of a cooling airflow and solidifies. Parts are subsequently build up in layers, with each layer fusing to the last, solidifying to make a complete model part.

Detailed steps involved in FDM 3D printing

Fused Deposition Modeling, commonly known as FDM, is one of the most popular 3D printing technologies in use today. FDM printers are widely used in various industries for rapid prototyping, product development, and production. It involves several detailed steps to create a physical object from a digital model. Here are the steps involved:

  1. Design Creation: The first step in FDM 3D printing is to create or acquire a digital design file using CAD software or downloaded from an online repository.
  2. Slicing: The design file is sliced into multiple layers, each representing one layer of printed material.
  3. Material Preparation: The thermoplastic filaments are loaded onto the printer’s spool holder and fed through the extrusion nozzle.
  4. Printing Bed Preparation: A print platform made of glass, aluminium, or other materials is prepared with adhesion aids such as tape, glue, or hairspray to ensure the model adheres well to it.
  5. Calibration: The machine must be calibrated beforehand to ensure proper alignment and movement during printing.
  6. Printing Process Initiation: Once all preparations are complete, the printer begins laying down layers according to instructions received from slicing software.
  7. Layer-by-Layer Deposition & Cooling: As each layer gets deposited on top of another layer to a build platform, it starts cooling until it solidifies and forms part of the final object.
  8. Removal of Support Material: Support removal is done by dissolving them with water or other chemicals.
  9. Post-Processing Methods: The part is cleaned up and/or polished to give it a smooth, finished look and feel.

Materials used in FDM 3D printing

Fused deposition modelling materials are critical to the quality, strength, and functionality of the final product.

The most common materials used in FDM 3D printing include Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Polylactic Acid (PLA), Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG), Nylon, and Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU). Each material has unique properties that make it suitable for specific applications. For instance, ABS is known for its toughness and durability, making it ideal for producing functional parts and engineering materials such as automotive components.

Other factors that influence the choice of materials in FDM 3D printing include price, availability, ease of use, print speed, and compatibility with different printers. As technology advances, new materials are being developed to improve the quality and versatility of common FDM materials and parts for 3D printing. Some examples include carbon fibre-infused filaments that increase the strength and stiffness of printed parts and flexible filaments that enable the creation of rubber-like objects with varying degrees of flexibility.

Advantages Of FDM 3D printing

One of the biggest FDM advantages is its affordability. Compared to other 3D printing technologies such as stereolithography (SLA) or selective laser sintering (SLS), FDM printers are relatively inexpensive and widely available in different sizes and configurations. Additionally, FDM materials are also affordable, diverse, and readily available on the market.

Another significant advantage of FDM 3D printing is its versatility. With FDM technology, users can print objects and parts in various sizes, shapes, colours, textures, and mechanical properties using different types of thermoplastics such as PLA or ABS, nylon, and even metal-infused options, allowing for customisation and creativity in designs. It also allows for easy modification or refinement of designs before printing them out physically. This allows designers to choose a material that best suits their intended application for the product being developed.

Furthermore, since FDM printers do not require support structures for most designs due to their self-supporting nature during production, this eliminates the additional post-processing requirements that come with removing these supports from finished products made with other technologies.

Cost-effective production

To produce cost-efficient FDM 3D prints, there are several factors to consider. First, selecting an affordable but reliable printer is essential. There are many budget-friendly options available on the market that can still produce high-quality prints. Second, using less expensive filaments such as PLA or PETG can also help reduce production costs without sacrificing quality.

Another way to save money in FDM 3D printing is by optimising print settings such as infill density layer thickness and speed. By experimenting with these parameters, users can find a balance between print quality and material usage which ultimately leads to lower production costs.

Overall, cost-effective FDM 3D printing requires careful consideration of materials, equipment, and settings while maintaining high standards of quality output for various applications making it an ideal technology for prototyping or small-scale productions.

Speedy prototyping

FDM 3D printing allows for speedy prototyping by directly creating parts from CAD models. It eliminates the need for expensive tooling and allows for quick iteration of designs. It can create complex geometries and enables rapid feedback loops, leading to faster time-to-market for various industries.

Versatility in design

It is a versatile technology that can print with different materials, colours, and textures for various applications. It can produce functional prototypes and end-use parts, making it ideal for businesses that require customisation or testing of advanced materials.

FDM printers can also print intricate structures on smooth surfaces with precise tolerances, making them suitable for engineering projects. Its speed and cost-effectiveness make it an attractive alternative to traditional manufacturing processes.

Limitations of FDM 3D printing

Although FDM 3D printing is a great tool for creating the closest representation and simple shapes, it does have its limitations. The technology struggles with producing intricate designs and precise details, which is one of its major drawbacks. Due to the layer-by-layer manufacturing process, it faces difficulties with overhangs and complex geometries that require support structures to be removed later.

This makes it challenging to achieve highly detailed or fine features and intricate shapes as support removal can be hard from fine areas without damaging the finished product. Additionally, it results in a poor smooth surface finish due to visible layer lines and rough surfaces, making the final product appear less professional.

Applications of FDM 3D printing

This is a popular and versatile technology that can be used for various applications across different industries. Some of the common materials across the industries that use FDM 3D printing are:

  • Aerospace: It can create lightweight and complex parts for aircraft, satellites, rockets, and drones. For example, NASA used FDM 3D printing to make a rocket engine injector that can withstand extreme temperatures and pressures.
  • Automotive: It can produce functional prototypes, custom parts, and tools for cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. For example, Ford used FDM 3D printing to create a brake duct for its Shelby Mustang GT500.
  • Medical: It can fabricate anatomical models, surgical guides, implants, prosthetics, and orthotics for medical applications. For example, e-NABLE used FDM 3D printing to make low-cost and personalised hand prosthetics for children and adults. This process allows for precision and accuracy, which is not possible with traditional manufacturing methods, and patient-specific models can be created from imaging data to help doctors plan surgeries or other procedures more effectively.
  • Construction: It has become an essential tool for architects and builders as it allows them to quickly prototype their designs before constructing them physically. This provides an opportunity for designers to identify any flaws or weaknesses in their designs before committing to expensive material costs during construction. Additionally, the FDM printing process enables architects to create complex geometries that would be impossible or extremely difficult to achieve using traditional manufacturing methods in architecture and construction.

Future Of FDM 3D Printing

The future of FDM 3D printing looks promising as the technology continues to evolve. One area where significant advancements are expected is in the materials used for printing. Manufacturers are developing new filaments with improved properties such as higher strength, flexibility, durability, and heat resistance.

Another area where FDM 3D printing is expected to excel in the future is faster printing speed. With technological advancements such as larger print beds, better temperature control systems, and more efficient extruders, FDM printers may be able to produce objects at much higher speeds than what’s currently possible. This could lead to increased efficiency and productivity in various industries that use this technology for mass production purposes.

Take Action Today

After exploring the world of industrial FDM printers and 3D printing, it’s clear that this technology is incredibly important and has endless potential in various industries. Using thermoplastic polymers to construct physical objects layer by layer means that we can create strong, robust parts with unparalleled dimensional accuracy and precision.

Overall, it has revolutionised the manufacturing industry by making it possible for businesses and individuals to create customised objects with ease. As technology continues to evolve, we can expect further advancements in this field that will make FDM machines become even more efficient and accessible for everyone.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into this exciting technology, now is the perfect time to start exploring. So whether you’re looking to prototype your next big invention or add rapid prototyping capabilities in-house, take action today by getting in touch with us here at Rennd to experience the power of FDM 3D printing.

14th June 2023