What is FDM Printing?

Fused Deposition Modelling is the most widely available form of 3D printing

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What is FDM Printing?

FDM also known as fused deposition modelling is the most widely available form of 3d printing. It is an additive manufacturing technology that selectively deposits molten plastic to build parts layer by layer building from the bottom up. Before printing begins, the modelling software slices the 3d cad file, and it creates an extrusion path that the nozzle will follow.

FDM works by heating and extruding a thermoplastic filament. The 3d printer heats the thermoplastic to a semi-liquid state and deposits it in ultra-fine beads along the extrusion path. Where support or buffering is needed, the 3d printer deposits a removable material that acts as scaffolding. When your 3d print is finished, the user either dissolves the supports attached to it in a solution of detergent and water or simply breaks them off.

What are the benefits of FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling)?

  • Complex geometries and cavities that would otherwise be problematic become practical with FDM 3D printing technology, using the same tried and tested thermoplastics found in traditional manufacturing processes. For applications that demand tight tolerances, toughness and environmental stability – or specialized properties like electrostatic dissipation, translucence, biocompatibility, VO flammability or FST ratings – there’s an FDM thermoplastic that can deliver.
  • FDM produces parts that are incredibly durable, and its often the process of choice when looking to test parts for fit & function your 3D printed parts will withstand strenuous testing. It’s also fantastic for prototypes that need to endure large temperature changes, mechanical stress, and chemical corrosion, as FDM has material choices that offer these properties.
  • FDM can also be used to create final products, especially smaller, detailed objects with many automotive manufacturers generally using it to create smaller prototypes.

Things to consider when choosing FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling)

  • Printing a part with FDM will generally take longer than printing the same object using SLA or SLS.
  • The final part will need some retouching as FDM often produces objects with rougher surfaces so if you are looking for a smooth finish you will need to factor in sanding and painting. 
  • The technology is limited by its need for support material (the scaffolding we spoke about above) to generate overhangs. These limitations must be kept in mind when using FDM to achieve the very best result.
  • Fine features will not come out as well as SLA so its part dependent as to whether this is the very best process. 
  • FDM parts are anisotropic meaning they have a physical property which has a different value when measured in different directions. If we take the example of wood, it’s always stronger along the grain than across it. With the layering process of FDM you won’t get the same strengths across all the areas of the part, we will work with you to get the strongest part tolerance by looking at the geometries of the part and how best to print it.

When would you use FDM as a 3D Printing Technology?

Design Verification – it’s a great way to test parts for fit & function, if you’re looking to produce models or mockups of your designs you can verify your CAD models quickly and test the strength / durability. 

Production Runs – FDM can be cost effective for batch production of promotional items, internal components and housings. 

Durability – when you need durable parts with a higher tolerance FDM is usually a better process.

Materials Used for FDM

What are high-performance plastic polymers?

Plastic Polymers fall into two categories: thermosets and thermoplastics. Thermosetting polymers are those that solidify to an irreversible hardness after curing due to chemical bonds within the plastic. The polymer hardens in a cross-link pattern that prevents it from re-melting, even under extreme heat.

Thermoplastics are mainly used in the extrusion and sintering processes, where they are first melted and then reshaped according to the geometry of the 3D CAD model/part. Thermoplastics are polymers which become soft and pliable when heated above a certain temperature and then solidify when cooled down. Once thermoplastics have become solid, they can be re-melted and reformed again and again.

What high-performance plastic polymers can you use?

ULTEM®, the branded name for polyetherimide (PEI), is one of the few commercially available amorphous thermoplastic resins that retains its mechanical integrity at high temperatures. ULTEM is a high-performance plastic. It’s strong, chemical- and flame-resistant, easy to use, and able to withstand extremely high temperatures while retaining a set of stable electrical properties. ULTEM is a firm favourite in the Aerospace industry as well as being used in circuit boards, food preparation and sterilization equipment.

Most commonly used standard plastics

Ultem 1010 – The newest high performance FDM thermoplastic that offers not only excellent strength and thermal stability but also the ability to withstand steam autoclaving suitable for both the food and medical industry.

Ultem 9085 – Its high strength-to-weight ratio and FST rating makes it perfect for applications within the transport industry it’s also flame retardant and a high performance thermoplastic perfect for direct digital manufacturing and rapid prototyping. This unique material’s pre-existing certifications make it an excellent choice for the commercial transportation industry – especially aerospace, marine and ground vehicles.

Nylon12 CF – Giving you the ability to print 3D parts lighter than metal but just as strong and durable. Nylon 12CF extends the properties of Nylon 12 through the addition of chopped carbon fibre. Comprising 35% of the material weight, carbon fibre gives Nylon 12CF the highest stiffness to weight ratio of any FDM 3D printing material currently available. This makes it an ideal alternative to aluminium or other metal alloys when lightness is required or metal is not appropriate.

ABS-M30 – An excellent allrounder – a stable thermoplastic with a high tensile strength, impact and flexural strength, making it ideal for conceptual modelling, functional prototyping, manufacturing tools, and end-use-parts.

ST-130 – Ideal for complex hollow composite parts making complex designs easy by a dedicated support material, with high heat and pressure resistance, to withstand the curing process.

FDM 3D Models and Projects

Storm Trooper Food Mould

FDM Technology builds parts layer-by-layer from the bottom up by heating and extruding thermoplastic filament.

FDM 3D Printed Machining Jig

Complex geometries and cavities that would otherwise be problematic, become practical with FDM technology

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