While there are numerous 3D printing methods, the most widely used one is Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) where the printers are equipped with a thermoplastic filament, which is heated to its melting point to create a 3D object.
FDM was first invented in the 80s by Scott Crump, chairman and co-founder of Stratasys, widely recognized for its 3D printers and has since been adopted by various 3D printing companies under different names.
The beginnings of the FDM process rest with computer-aided design (CAD). An object’s CAD file is converted to the .STL format before the 3d printer can understand it. FDM printers use two major materials-a modelling material and a support material. The modelling material constitutes the end product while the support material serves as a scaffolding to the printed object. These two materials then turn into filaments during the printing process, melted by an extrusion nozzle.
The printing time depends on the printed object’s size. While smaller, thinner objects are printed quickly, larger, more complex objects take time. FDM is a slower process as compared to other processes such as stereolithography or selective laser sintering. When the object is released from the FDM printer, its support material is removed by either snapping it off by hand or soaking it in a detergent solution or water. It is then painted, sanded or milled to enhance its appearance.
FDM commonly uses printing material such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a thermoplastic used in several consumer products. FDM also makes use of other thermoplastics such as polycarbonate (PC) or polyetherimide (PEI).
FDM is used in a diverse range of industries, ranging from consumer goods to automotive, throughout their manufacturing process.
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