Additive manufacturing or 3D printing as it is known these days, uses one of three technologies to print 3D models:
1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)
2. Stereolithography (SLA)
3. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)
Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) is the focus of this particular blog.
3D printing using FDM essentially implies that the object being printed is fused together by printing layer after layer in a certain pattern.
Objects are created by extruding layer upon layer of the heated material on the build tray or printing bed of the 3D printer. FDM 3D printers use a filament of certain material, usually plastic, which is passed through a hot end, to melt. The melted filament material is used to make layers which are then fused together to give the object its final shape. A wide variety of materials can be used for FDM 3D printing like plastics, pastes and some metals as well.
FDM 3D printers can be fitted with a wide variety of extrusion systems or extruders like filament extruders, pellet extruders, chocolate extruders and paste extruders depending on the required model to be printed. Scalability is the biggest advantage of using the FDM technique for 3D printing. None of the other available 3D printing techniques like SLS and SLA, can be scaled like FDM, without major issues propping up. This means FDM 3D printers are continually being made less expensive and bigger, owing to low cost of parts and the simple designs used.
Another advantage of FDM 3D printing is the wide variety of materials that can be used for this technique. FDM printers support many thermoplastics and changing the filament material requires few upgrades and modifications, which can be an issue when using SLS or SLA 3D printing techniques.
FDM’s notable disadvantage is the lack of detail and low quality of the printed models. This can be attributed to the fact that material is extruded in layers. Moreover, the thickness of layer is predefined by the type of extrusion nozzle being used, again limiting the detail that can be produced for a given model. As models are printed layer by layer, they are also prone to developing weak points where the layers are joined, making them unsuitable for certain applications.
Despite the above disadvantages FDM remains by far the most popular 3D printing technique that is used to print 3D models.