What is an FDM 3D Printer and how to choose one for my business?

Business Insights

FDM 3D printing is by far the most common 3D printing technology. It’s an exceedingly popular option among both professional and hobbyist printer operators, and it’s easy to see why.

FDM is an incredibly flexible and versatile technology, with a vast range of printers and materials available. As a result, FDM is suitable for a wide range of applications, from small DIY prints at home and rapid prototyping, all the way to large-scale industrial manufacture of strong machinery components. But the sheer number of options can make choosing the right FDM printer for your purposes challenging. After all, what’s the difference between all these similar-looking machines that all claim to produce the finest prints?

In this article, we’ll explain what make FDM 3D printers tick, what tasks they excel in, and how you can find the right printer for you.

How FDM 3D Printing Works

FDM is short for Fused Deposition Modelling. This term is actually a trademarked name for Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF), but it’s so commonly used that many people may not realize that these are the same technology.

Whether called FFF or FDM, 3D printers based on these technologies function the same way. They fuse heated and melted material together to create a solid object.

You can think of FDM 3D printing as icing a cake. The printers extrude materials through a nozzle and lay it down onto the printer’s build plate in layers to achieve the desired geometry.

Depending on the specific printer technology, either the extruder nozzle or the build plate will move horizontally until all the material for that layer is deposited. Then, either the blade lowers or the extruder rises slightly to lay down a new layer. The heat of the material (and the heated print bed, depending on the printer model) will fuse the two layers together.

The most common materials fed into FDM 3D printers are various thermoplastics — such as ABS, PLA, and Nylon — that come in spools of filament. Some 3D printers can handle rougher materials, like carbon fibre, and some industrial FDM machines can even fuse metal filaments.

FDM 3D Printing Applications …

Reading about the strengths and limitations of FDM 3D printing, you probably already have a basic idea of where it shines. But let’s a closer look at the most suitable applications for FDM printers.

Rapid Prototyping

Thanks to its fast print speed and cheap material costs, FDM 3D printers are excellent for rapidly creating rough or functional prototypes. Using 3D printing in these tasks can make the design cycle faster and reduce time market. Additionally, the lower surface quality won’t matter as much when the product isn’t intended for end use.

Jigs and Fixtures

FDM printers are a prime candidate for creating jigs and fixtures. These parts generally require customized shapes and low production volumes, both factors that play into FDM 3D printing’s strengths. If you use a printer that can reinforce parts with carbon fibre or other material, you can also make your parts extremely lightweight and strong.

Medical Applications

FDM 3D printers can print with sanitary and/or biocompatible plastics. This makes them great for medical applications that require highly customizable low-volume appliances. For example, FDM printing is an increasingly popular method for producing prosthetics and splints.

Automotive Industry

Many major car manufacturers, including Ford and Volkswagen, have embraced FDM printers. They find use in all parts of the car manufacturing process, from design and prototyping to printing functional components, like fasteners and interior parts.

Aerospace Industry

FDM printers are soaring — literally. Aerospace companies and agencies, like Airbus and NASA, use FDM 3D printers to manufacture lightweight, customizable components, some of which have even left Earth.

Considerations When Picking an FDM 3D Printer …

As we’ve pointed out several times, the marketplace is flush with different FDM printer models. When you’re trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack for your 3D printing operation, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Material Compatibility: Consider what materials you want to process and make sure the printer is compatible with them. Some FDM printers have lower nozzle temperatures that can’t melt the most demanding engineering-grade materials.

  • Detail Level: While FDM isn’t the most detailed 3D printing technology, some printers can reach respectable levels of detail — at a price. If you’re looking to primarily make rough prototypes, for example, consider whether you want to pay for the extra detail.

  • Throughput: You may think that a bigger and faster printer is better, but that’s not always the case. Fast print speeds often come at the cost of detail. You may not necessarily need a gigantic print chamber for all applications or, vice versa, big parts may not fit in a small printer.

  • Printer Software: A 3D printer requires at least one computer software application to prepare and transfer the print jobs to the machine. Make sure your operating system can run the software your printer supports.

  • Printer Technology: It’s a good idea to check a printer’s feature list and specifications before purchase. They may have some expensive, advanced technologies that you simply may not need — or can’t live without.

For more information www.solidprint3d.co.uk