FDM technology and its practical application

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FDM technology and its practical application

3D printing involves creating spatial models – objects according to previously prepared designs in computer programmes. One of the methods of 3D printing is FDM technology. What does 3D FDM printing consist of?

Wydruk 3D w technologii FDM na drukarce przemysłowej
3D FDM printout

FDM 3D printer – a device used in industry

FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printers are technologically advanced 3D printers, thanks to which they are able to produce large and complex parts with high surface quality and dimensional tolerance. Industrial FDM printers use special filaments with high strength, temperature resistance and resistance to chemical environments. In industry, they are used for the production of prototypes, tools, spare parts and also for small batch production. Industrial FDM printers require high-quality equipment, specialised software and skilled personnel. However, at the industrial scale of production, the benefits of using an FDM 3D printer are immense, such as increased production flexibility, faster time to market or the ability to produce custom-shaped components.

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What is 3D FDM printing?

FDM (fused deposition modelling) printing is a 3D printing technology developed in the late 1980s. It was patented by Stratasys®, whose founder is Scott Crump. Sometimes FDM printing is also abbreviated as FFF – Fused Filament Fabrication. 3D FDM printing involves 3D printing using high-performance thermoplastic materials (thermoplastics).

First, in order to use FDM technology, the engineer needs special software – CAD – in which he creates a model, consisting of many layers of low height. An individual path is created for each layer. Those paths are later used by the FDM 3D printer. In practice, this 3D printing involves building the model layer by layer, from scratch using the extrusion of thermoplastics through a heated tip. The heated tip also extrudes the material to print  supports if the model requires it. FDM printing does not begin until the thermoplastic (in the form of a filament) in the nozzle called an extruder has heated up and over-melted, allowing it to be layered on the work table according to pre-designed paths. As more layers are printed, the FDM 3D printer lowers the work table or raises the level of the print head.

Advantages of FDM technology

The biggest advantage of FDM printing is that its use of thermoplastics gives the final objects high mechanical, chemical and thermal strength. Prints are created quickly, using filaments that are not expensive. The engineer operating the FDM printer can set the desired parameters of the incremental process himself, i.e. define the temperature of the printing nozzle or nozzles, and the working platform. He regulates the height of the material layer to be applied, the speed of the cooling fan or the speed of printing.

Wydruk zużywających się części w technologii FDM

The dimensional accuracy of objects printed using 3D FDM technology is +/- 0.5%, with a lower limit of half a millimetre for desktop printers. Industrial 3D printers are more accurate, with a dimensional accuracy of +/- 0.15% and a lower dimensional limit of 0.2 millimetres.

3D printers, using thermoplastics for the FDM printing process, can print from high-strength plastics to produce good quality functional prototypes and conceptual models.

Jakość wydruku w technologii FDM

Where is FDM printing used?

The FDM 3D printer is used to create durable parts using materials used in extrusion and CNC machining. These are stable and durable. FDM technology is used in the prototyping process as well as in the production of ready-for-use functional parts. Due to the fact that thermoplastic filaments are cheap, FDM 3D printing was primarily used for low-cost prototypes and demonstration models. However, today this is different, due to the wide range of thermoplastic materials that are now in use for FDM 3D printing.

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FDM 3D printing variants

The FDM 3D printer is based on thermoplastic materials extruded from the printing head. These can be various materials such as ABS, ASA, PC, PC-ABS or ULTEM. The cheapest and simplest thermoplastics for FDM printers are designed for industrial printing. On the other hand, such filaments as ABS-M30i, ULTEM 1010 and PC-ISO are characterised by their sterility and biocompatibility, making them suitable for use in the medical, pharmaceutical or food industries. Colourful prototypes can be printed in the 3D printing variant of ASA thermoplastics. In the aerospace, automotive and military sectors, where high strength is particularly important, thermoplastics such as ULTEM 9085 are used.